Scotland targets ‘disproportionate’ emissions from textile waste


Released yesterday (16 February) and covering the calendar year 2020, the report suggests that the top five most carbon-intensive materials wasted in Scotland, including paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and animal and food waste, accounted for only 46% of all household waste. tonnage in 2020 but represented 83% of the carbon impact.

According to ZWS, “this proves that households need to be careful about what they waste, not just what they produce”.

The Textile Recycling Association said the report showed that reusing, recycling and improving resource efficiency could “significantly” reduce the carbon impacts of the fashion and textile industry.

The Scottish government has said it will set up an innovation fund to support initiatives that can help Scotland tackle textile pollution and ‘throwaway culture’.


Scottish Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said: “Every material wasted has a cost to our planet, but it is clear that textiles have a disproportionate impact.

Lorna Slater is Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Picture: Scottish Greens)

“That’s why we’re setting up an innovation fund to support initiatives that could help Scotland tackle textile pollution and throwaway culture.

“We want Scotland to have an economy where materials remain in use for as long as possible. This will not only reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint, it will also provide economic opportunities in reuse and refurbishment.

“To help achieve this agenda, I am currently preparing plans for an ambitious Circular Economy Bill which will be released for consultation in due course.”

Textile waste accounts for 32% of emissions, but only 4% of waste by weight


The carbon impact of household waste in Scotland in 2020 increased by 3.2%, according to the report.

This has been attributed to Covid-19 lockdowns which have seen more people stay home and recycling centers close temporarily.

As shown below, the spike in carbon emissions from textiles was driven by a 4,800 tonne increase in textile waste, while 1,600 tonnes less was recycled due to disruption in export markets and that 7,500 tons more were incinerated.

A table showing the amount of waste generated, recycled, incinerated and landfilled by material stream in 2020, compared to 2019

While most material streams have seen an increase in generated tonnage, streams such as glass and plastic have seen an increase in recycled tonnage, mitigating the carbon impact of these vapours.


Iain Gulland, Managing Director of ZWS, said: “The first year of the pandemic forced us all to change our way of life almost overnight – this included working from home to an increase in online shopping, which of course led to a spike in household waste. This has contributed to an increase in our own individual carbon footprint.

Iain Gulland is chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland

“Each person in Scotland is responsible for 18.4 tonnes of materials each year and it is these products and materials that make up around 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint.

“I welcome the brilliant efforts of households to reuse and recycle, where possible, but Zero Waste Scotland believes the solution lies in the previous step.

“If we are serious about ending our contribution to the climate crisis, we must live within our means and reduce our consumption in the first place – there is no time to waste.”

According to ZWS, shopping “smarter” and wasting less will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint and slow climate degradation.

“It’s essential to move from a ‘make, use, throw away’ culture, known as the linear economy, to a more circular economy where the value of products and materials is maximized to make them last as long as possible,” added ZWS. .


The report is likely to spark new calls from the textile recycling industry to speed up legislation that would encourage greater recycling of used clothes.

Alan Wheeler is director of the Textile Recycling Association

Leaving the EU, the UK pledged to roll out a separate collection of textiles by 2025.

In its consultation on extended producer responsibility for packaging, Defra also indicated that textiles was one of five areas where it would consider a UK-wide producer responsibility scheme.

Alan Wheeler, CEO of the Textile Recycling Association, said: “The big benefit is that reusing, recycling and improving resource efficiency can significantly reduce the carbon impact of the fashion and textile industry.

“We need to continue to focus on the very big issue here of the huge environmental impacts of fashion and textiles and not get bogged down on small issues that may attract global attention but disproportionately harm the very important work that must be done. ”


Textile waste is a notoriously difficult problem to solve, because despite the awareness of the carbon impact, the demand for “fast fashion” has continued to increase.

The overwhelming majority of recycled textiles are sold as second-hand clothing in markets in Africa and the Middle East, which means, unlike other flows, there are very few “end-to-end markets”. “.

The difficulty of reducing textile waste was recently highlighted by WRAP which, through its Sustainable Action Clothing Plan 2020, was able to reduce carbon and water footprints by 21% and 15% respectively, but only 4% for textile waste. (to see story).





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