The Charity Retail Association has accused the anti-waste charity Wrap of being "irresponsible" for suggesting people are recycling less clothing because they are concerned about bogus charity collections.
Wrap is the lead partner of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, a cross-sector initiative to reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill and incineration by 15 per cent between 2012 and 2020.
Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 Commitment: Progress Report, which Wrap published last month, revealed that the reduction was just 4 per cent between 2012 and 2018.
The report said there could be a range of reasons for this low figure, including "people’s suspicion of ‘charity bag’ collections, following negative press about the legality of operators in the UK".
This prompted The Daily Telegraph newspaper to publish an article yesterday headlined "More people throwing clothes away because they distrust charity donation bags".
Robin Osterley, chief executive of the association, which represents charity shops, told Third Sector that Wrap should not have speculated about charity bag fraud, particularly given that the report itself says there was a lack of evidence behind such assumptions.
This left the sector open to articles in the press based on speculation rather than fact, such as the one in The Daily Telegraph, said Osterley, whose organisation is among the supporters of the action plan.
"We are getting fewer complaints from the public, so we think it's irresponsible and naive to give this reason," said Osterley.
"If they don't know, they should not speculate. Our view is that the re-use market is pretty healthy. Donations to charity shops are increasing.
"Our members are healthier for stock than they have been at any time in the past."
He said he "strongly suspected" the increase in the amount of clothing going to landfill was "due to the huge amount of clothing being manufactured rather than any drop-off in the re-use market".
Keith James, government account manager at Wrap, which works with governments, businesses and the voluntary sector to improve resource efficiency, agreed that a spike in clothing sales since 2014 was "the most likely reason" for the struggle to hit the target.
James admitted that Wrap, whose £20m annual income comes mainly from government, did not have any proof of a link between declining public trust in charity bag collections and the amount of clothing going to waste, but pointed out that the report said this.
"This is an evidence report so we have to identify all possible reasons," he said. "That's one of the possible reasons. We are not saying it's the only reason."
James added that the 15 per cent target was still achievable and Wrap was working with its partners on initiatives such as Donation Generation, which encourages people to pledge to donate unwanted clothes.