This week, top fashion brands, academics and experts will come together with parliamentarians in Westminster to discuss if and how clothing take-back schemes can help to solve the problem of textile over-consumption.

But why should fashion brands consider investing time and resource into recycling clothing? Should they be collaborating? What market opportunity exists? And what knock-on effects do they have on secondary markets?

So many questions. Well, let’s start with the need: why should anyone recycle textiles at all?

WRAP recently published a report that 1.4million tonnes of textiles end up in landfill in the UK every year. With the increased availability of cheap, low quality clothing, Western consumers have become accustomed to buying lots of clothes and throwing them away after a short period. According to the Local Government Association the UK will run out of landfill space by 2018; we simply cannot carry on burying things in the ground.

But why can’t brands just produce less stuff – would this not solve the problem?

Well yes, it would from an environmental and ethical labour point of view. But the flip side of this is the reality that the enormous growth of the fashion industry over the last twenty years has led to many people and economies becoming dependent on the income and jobs it generates.

A lot of fast fashion issues are symptomatic of the way our economies currently work. Whether we like it or not, we’re all part of a globalised consumerist culture.

So with so much overconsumption – what can we do?

Most old clothes have traditionally gone to charity shops, but charities have become overwhelmed with too many clothes. Ever-cheaper prices from fast fashion retailers mean charity shops cannot compete. Most are sold on to secondary markets in Africa. However, the East African Community is considering an import ban on old clothing, which will put enormous pressure on European landfills. Dr Wheeler, of WRAP, has also warned that charity shop quality garments are worth half the price they were three years ago. This has led to collection points being withdrawn.

Fashion brands, with their global logistics and capital are well placed to take responsibility to help solve this problem but currently, there are not enough textile collections. According to Dr Wheeler, a supportive policy is needed in the UK like the one introduced in France, which imposes a legally binding ‘producer responsibility levy’. This has incentivised brands to create collection points; take-back rates have soared and new research projects have been implemented.

The most environmentally friendly way to get rid of old clothes is not to recycle them (which is energy intensive) but to reuse them. Although the traditional method of donating to charity shops has become saturated there are other creative ways to repurpose clothing. For example, Fast Retailing (owner of Uniqlo) has teamed up with UNHCR to collect old clothing in their stores in 16 countries and hand it out to refugees all over the world as part of the '10 Million Ways to Help' project.

Many charities collect, redistribute and recycle clothing around the world, but only large fashion brands have the capacity to collect old clothes for reuse and recycling at scale, enabling them to provide the potential to really make a serious difference to the amount of textiles ending up in landfill. If this goes hand in hand with new technologies which will allow more types of textiles to be recycled into new garments, there could be an exciting fashion future ahead which does not degrade the environment to the same extent as the current model.

Do you think fashion brands should be made to provide clothing take-back schemes to customers? Tell us what you think below.