Charity retail and environmental sustainability

One of the clearest social benefits generated by the charity retail sector is our contribution to environmental sustainability. As a result of charity retail, 232,000 tonnes of textiles out were kept out of landfill in 2017, reducing the UK’s carbon emissions by nearly seven million tonnes.

We have had some clear success in our efforts to ensure that this contribution is recognised by influential politicians and policy makers. For example:

  • DEFRA use Charity Retail Association data as part of their quarterly calculations of how the UK is performing against its European recycling and re-use targets.
  • Our arguments about the environmental benefits of charity retail were accepted and adopted by the London Assembly Environment Committee in their most recent publication.
  • Along with our Chief Executive, Robin Osterley, I recently met with Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the influential Environmental Audit Committee in the House of Commons.

To build on this progress we recently took part in the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into the environmental impact of fast fashion. Our submission (which you can read on the dedicated page on our members’ website) was based around three key arguments.

  1. The charity retail sector does a huge amount to offset the environmental impact of fast fashion, but the growth of this kind of clothing has had a negative impact on the sector’s ability to generate income for charitable causes.
  2. One of the main criticisms of fast fashion is that it ‘focuses on speed and low costs in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles’. This means that consumers will often wear an item just a single time before throwing it out. The presence of a thriving charity retail sector gives people a sustainable way of passing on these items rather than simply putting them in the waste for the local authority to collect. Our sector could do even more to contribute in this way with additional support from councils and central government.
  3. The Environmental Audit Committee should recognise this contribution in its final recommendations and push the government to ensure that our sector is protected as a vital part of British life.

The environmental benefits of charity retail are clear and we are a clear and ethical alternative to fast fashion. The sector provides quality to products to local people at a price they can afford with the average overall transaction value in a charity shop sitting at just £4.03. We are therefore hopeful that the committee will take on board our arguments and ideas.

Matt Kelcher
Head of Public Affairs and Research
Charity Retail Association