Charity shops: the ethical and sustainable alternative to fast fashion

Charity shops are an ethical and sustainable alternative to fast fashion and throwaway culture. Our shops provide good quality products to people at a price they can afford. With the right support from local and national government we could do even more to promote recycling and reuse of textile and garments.

We emphasised these points in a recent submission to DEFRA’s consultation on reforming the UK packaging producer responsibility system.

We told the government that we would strongly support any extension of extended producer responsibility (EPR) for manufacturers of fast fashion. This would ensure that producers remain accountable for their products beyond the point of purchase and any warranty period. We believe that, as a result, such clothing would be made with better quality and be more appropriate for re-use and sale in our shops further down the line.

Alongside this, charity retail should be promoted as an 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. Customers also know that they are supporting the delivery of a range of other social benefits:

  • Charity retail is the biggest source of volunteer opportunities in the UK, with 230,000 people currently volunteering in the sector.
  • Last year charity retail contributed over £295m to charitable causes.
  • 23,000 staff are employed in the charity retail sector – stable and sustainable local jobs
  • Charity shops help to attract footfall to high streets and keep them thriving.
  • As a result of charity retail, the UK’s carbon emissions were cut by nearly seven million tonnes in 2017

Each of these achievements has a direct positive benefit for people across the country, but there is also an undoubted financial return to taxpayers:

  • When young people gain the skills they need to enter the labour market full time and leave the benefits system public money is saved.
  • When charity shops give local people the opportunity to dispose of their old items of furniture or clothes in a sustainable manner recycling rates go up and the cost of Landfill Tax goes down.
  • When so much money is raised for good causes the outcomes benefit everyone.

Therefore, we made a clear recommendation that DEFRA should recognise this contribution in its final report and make it clear that the government will take steps to ensure that our sector is protected as a vital part of British life.

You can read this submission, and all of our consultation responses dating back to 2016 on the dedicated page of our members website.

Matt Kelcher
Head of Public Affairs and Research
Charity Retail Association