Our client, QSA Partners believes so, providing such a scheme is designed well. It is why they are running an industry-led project to develop a model for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for the fashion industry. We spoke to Gerrard Fisher, Partner at QSA Partners to find out more.
What is Extended Producer Responsibility?
If we are to meet climate targets, better solutions are needed to tackle the damaging environmental impacts of the fashion industry and growing textile waste volumes. EPR is on policy approach favoured by many governments to;
make producers responsible for the full costs of managing the waste they generate throughout the product lifecycle (including the post-consumer stage), AND;
incentivise producers to take account of environmental considerations when designing products and encourage more circular practices by ensuring products can be reused, refurbished, and resold.
The principles of EPR seem straightforward, and fair enough - those who pollute and cause more environmental damage, should pay more. In reality, EPRs are notoriously difficult to get right. Anyone familiar with EPR schemes (think electrical products, batteries, and packaging in the UK, textiles in Europe) will appreciate how complex, administratively time-consuming, and unfair they can be.
But they're here to stay and governments globally have their sights firmly set on fashion and textiles.
Extended Producer Responsibility for Fashion & Textiles
Introducing EPR for fashion and textiles is a priority action for the UK government to support its waste reduction targets and Net Zero commitment. It is the #1 action for Textiles - source "The waste prevention programme for England: Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste".
The government is committed to working collaboratively to facilitate an industry-led project to assess the costs and benefits of such an approach. This is being led by QSA Partners in collaboration with the UK Fashion and Textiles Association, the British Fashion Council, and the University of Exeter, with support from the British Retail Consortium. Datitude is the project’s data partner.
The project aims to lay the ground for an EPR system that will give all supply chain players incentives to ensure clothes and other textile products can be reused, refurbished, and / or resold.
The project is in good hands with QSA Partners. They have extensive experience with EPR schemes across decades, are experts in circular economy business models, and have been tirelessly working to bring the UK fashion industry together to raise awareness of and address the potential costly impacts of a future EPR.
Many in the industry want to become more circular but need a level playing field to avoid being undercut by cheaper, more environmentally damaging, and less circular products. And therein lies one of the key challenges.
Typically, EPR schemes are based on collective producer responsibility – with costs proportionate to market size typically passed onto the consumer, and the revenue generated for the government does not get reinvested back into the industry. It doesn’t incentivise better industry performance or greater circularity, nor does it achieve systemic change.
From Collective to Individual Extended Producer Responsibility
QSA Partners know there’s an appetite in the industry for moving away from a collective approach towards individual producer responsibility. It sees the opportunity to incentivise producers to incorporate more circular design practices, from better material choices to durability and design for reuse, resale, refurbishing, and recyclability.
It understands that the right thing to do is reduce the financial burden on those who are doing more than others and incentivise those that aren’t to raise the bar. It also wants to see funds collected through EPR put back into the system to aid circular measures and incentivise change for good. For example, funds could be used to support changes in consumer behaviour or investment in recycling technologies.
In essence, this is what the EPR project is all about - working out how an individual EPR system could work; one that is fair, balanced, drives appropriate change, and can accommodate unknown future requirements. It is a brilliant opportunity to influence government proposals prior to consultation. Getting ahead of the legislative process makes a huge difference. And, being industry-led, and engaging all stakeholders, is essential to establishing a workable system.
Six major brands and retailers are participating in the first phase of the project which kicked off in September 2023. The main aims are to:
establish what data is available across supply chains, and can be matched at an industry level. This includes looking at production quantities, sales (new, resale, and rental), fabric composition, and take-back / recycling collections
develop a set of balanced scorecards to model and assess the impact of different fee and incentive systems
collate, model, and analyse real market data in a data sandbox environment to assess the impact of different incentives and fees on the industry.
It’s a hugely exciting project. Establishing this shared sandbox enables real information to be used at industry level, provides flexibility to model and assess different criteria / levers, and encourages participation. Ultimately it enables outputs to be shared with the industry so it is better prepared ahead of government consultation.
Our thanks go to Gerrard Fisher at QSA Partners for his contribution to this article.
Datitude is proud to be the project's data partner and we’re looking forward to seeing the project progress. Watch this space for further updates. In the meantime, if you are interested in getting involved or are looking at becoming more circular, contact QSA Partners. You may also be interested in our "Meet the Client" feature with Kristina Bull from QSA Partners.
About QSA Partners
QSA Partners, a B-Corp certified business, are experts in circular business models. They work with businesses of all sizes across all sectors to improve their environmental performance, reduce new production, generate more revenue, and serve different consumer segments by keeping products in circulation for as long as possible through services like rental, repair, and resale.
They have worked closely with WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) over many years. Their most recent collaboration has been as expert contributors developing WRAP’s Circular Business Models Guide for Fashion. This easy-to-access guide sets out QSA Partners' seven-step framework for adopting innovative business models, along with practical considerations to work through each step.
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