Waste and end-of-life
The materials that are bought and disposed of have significant climate impacts. Currently only 45% of overall household waste in the UK is recycled, while 70% of packaging waste is recycled. Every product consumed has a carbon footprint. The more products consumed, and the faster they reach the end of life, the greater the carbon footprint of the UK retail industry. The retail industry in the UK is in the early stages of a transition from a linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a circular economy where goods and materials are kept in use.
The most significant emissions associated with waste are those already released during the production of the items now being disposed of – the implication being that when items are disposed of, new items will likely be purchased to replace them, carrying with them additional carbon footprint. The waste management sector itself produces emissions from landfill sites, waste incineration, and the treatment of waste-water. Waste management is estimated to have been responsible for around 5% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, with methane accounting for 92% of emissions. The vast majority of these emissions are from landfill sites.
Although by weight textiles only make up approximately 5% of the national household waste composition in the UK, emissions associated with the production of these textiles (it is estimated that 10% of all global emissions come from the fashion industry) makes it one of the most environmentally damaging waste streams. According to figures published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 87% of the total fibre input used for clothing is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
Routes to decarbonising waste
Decarbonising waste requires work across the value chain of products. At the design phase work is required to reduce material consumption, select low carbon materials and ensure products can be repaired, disassembled and recycled. Customers need better support to extend the life of their products, which may mean better information, the deployment of sharing or leasing business models, providing extended warranties and repair services, and supporting resale and secondary markets. Finally, customers need help to dispose of products appropriately at the end of life, including providing information on how to recycle products, and the infrastructure to enable collection and reprocessing.
 UK Statistics on Waste (2020). Defra.
 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Final figures (2018) – Office for National Statistics
 National household waste composition (2017) - WRAP
 United Nations Environment Programme and Ellen MacArthur Foundation
 UNFCCC and https://www.nature.com/articles/s43017-020-0039-9