How Much Waste Does the Fashion Industry Produce?
June 24, 2019
The fashion industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world. We produce way more clothes than we need and we discard them after a couple of wears. And the worst part is, the majority of our clothes goes to landfill, even though we could easily reuse or recycle them.
How much waste does the fashion industry actually produce? An average consumer throws away 70 pounds (31.75 kilograms) of clothing per year. Globally we produce 13 million tons of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.
In addition to all this, the fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It is a major contributor to water pollution, plastic pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
This is why what we wear matters!
Textile Waste in the Fashion Industry
In the 90s’ with the rise of fast fashion, there was a major shift in how we buy our clothes. We have an abundance of clothing to choose from for a very low price. Clothes became extremely cheap so we don’t care for them anymore as much as earlier generations used to.
When your T-shirt costs less than your coffee you don’t expect it to last longer than your coffee.
According to Elizabeth L. Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, we only wear our clothes 7 times on average before discarding them.
I know it’s fun to always buy new stuff, it brings some variety into our lives, but sadly, this mentality has a huge effect on our planet.
It is something we don’t think about enough in our everyday lives, mainly because it’s all hidden, and everything is marketed with happy, gorgeous-looking people to manipulate us.
But the reality is that one garbage truck of textiles is dumped to landfills or burned each second!
People in the UK have $46.7 billion worth of clothing in their closets that is unworn.
Meanwhile, companies (e.g. Burberry and H&M) are burning their unsold clothes in secret, and 15% of their textiles end up on the cutting room floor without recycling them.
Less than 30% of our clothes are donated, but the world is still swimming in second-hand clothes. The US only exports more than a billion pounds (453.6 million kilograms) of used clothing each year.
This speed of producing new clothes and discarding them is just unhealthy for the planet.
Clothes dumped on landfills take decades to degrade while they are emitting greenhouse gases. They could be reused or recycled.
And we should never forget that landfill is not a magical place where everything just disappears. It is something that’s growing with time and in order to be able to throw away more, we have to take away more from nature, destroy forests and natural habitats of animals.
In order to save the planet from all this textile waste, fast fashion needs to slow down and we all need to become more responsible consumers!
Other Ways Fashion is Killing the Planet
Beyond the textile waste, the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world and it is responsible for more environmental destruction you would think of!
We are often aware of our use of fresh water when talking about the water used in the household (for showers for example). But actually, the amount of water we use extends way beyond that.
Did you know that the fashion industry produces 20% of the world’s water waste? The water usage of our clothing is huge during the whole production process.
Growing crops to make materials is very water intensive, especially when we make so much textile we don’t even use most of it, and when we could recycle 95% of our textile waste.
But consumers produce a lot of water waste as well when we wash our clothes more often than necessary.
We talk about plastic all over the media these days. We all know that single-use plastic like plastic straws and bottles are bad for the environment, but we shouldn’t forget about our clothes.
The most popular clothing material is polyester (which is a textile made of plastic). Polyester clothes are very uncomfortable due to the fact that they don’t breathe. They also look cheap and are of very low quality. Polyester takes much more time to decompose compared to natural fibers and it is one of the main causes of microplastic.
By washing our polyester clothes, we eject half a billion tons of microfibers each year which is equivalent to more than 50 million plastic bottles!
The fashion industry has its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions as well as its contribution to climate change. 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission comes from the fashion industry.
It is not so surprising due to the fact that the supply chain goes through so many countries and it requires transportation.
Toxic chemicals are used in the dying of textiles which is the biggest contributor to water pollution. Factories release chemicals into rivers in developing countries. Denim factories color the nearby rivers blue and pretty much kill the environment alongside the river. This is where the documentary River Blue got its title from.
Apart from denim, the other chemical-intensive process is leather tanning. People often have to work with these chemicals without any protection which can cause severe skin diseases.
How to Reduce Your Fashion Footprint
Learning all this information about fashion’s dirty secrets might make you a little hopeless. If you’re a true environmentalist, you know that you need to do something about this.
It is easy to blame companies who contribute so much to the destruction of the environment. However, we shouldn’t forget that we, the consumers, are just as much responsible because if we didn’t buy this much clothes, companies wouldn’t produce this much either. If we cared more about the quality instead of quantity, companies would need to produce more durable, better quality clothing.
This is our fault, but it’s also an opportunity to change. We don’t have to wait for brands to become more eco-friendly. We can start the change by buying less and buying better, and the fashion industry will produce less and produce better!
Think Long Term
We only wear our items 7 times before throwing them away. It is very alarming, isn’t it? Cline also mentions in her book that if we extended the life of our clothes by only 7 months we could cut waste by half.
When buying new clothes ask yourself whether you’re going to wear that item at least 30 times. If not, don’t buy it!
Buy better quality clothes that will last longer and support local designers or sustainable brands. If you’re new to sustainable fashion check out these 30 sustainable brands you should know of!
It is okay if you don’t want to keep all your clothes forever, but you should never throw them away! Is there a way you could reuse/upcycle them for something else? Pinterest is full of creative ideas and who doesn’t like to be crafty from time to time?
Sell or Donate
You can also find someone who would be happy to wear your old clothes! A sister, a friend, or maybe someone you don’t even know.
You can make some extra cash by reselling your used clothing, or you can donate them to a charity shop.
When you donate clothes, make sure they are clean and that they’re in the best condition possible. Only 10% of donated clothing can find a new owner the rest is sorted and shipped to other countries.
If you’re lucky, your city has textile collecting bins where you can dump the clothes you don’t wear anymore. Usually, you can throw out clothes in any condition because they sort through them. The ones that are in good condition go to charity shops, and the damages ones are being recycled.
95% of clothing can be recycled, however, recycled fabrics are usually worse quality than the original. As a result, recycled textiles are usually used to make rags and insulation.
DON’T bring your clothes to H&M recycling bins! H&M has a program that claims to recycle used clothes. Never, ever donate clothes for this program! Firstly because we have no idea what H&M is actually doing with those clothes. Secondly, because it is only another way how H&M tries to trick you into buying more clothes from them which is completely contradicts the purpose of being more sustainable!
What impact does fashion waste has on the environment? The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Clothes dumped to landfills take decades to decompose while they’re emitting methane and pollute the soil and waters with plastic and chemicals.
Is fashion the second most polluting industry? Fashion is NOT the second most polluting industry. The first two are oil and animal agriculture, fashion is only the 3rd.
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!