How Much Waste Does the Fashion Industry Produce? (2022)

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!

(Video) The true cost of fast fashion

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 than you would think of!

Water

We are often aware of our use of freshwater 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.

(Video) Recycling fashion: The town turning waste into clothes- BBC News

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.

Plastic

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!

Greenhouse Gases

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

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.

(Video) Fashion's Crippling Impact On The Environment Is Only Getting Worse (HBO)

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 responsible because if we didn’t buy this many clothes, companies wouldn’t produce this much either. If we cared more about 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!

Upcycle

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.

Recycle

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 damaged 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.

(Video) Waste couture: How the fashion industry can embrace sustainability • FRANCE 24 English

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!

Related Questions

What impact does fashion waste have 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.

Sources:

The Pretty Planeteer

Website | + posts

(Video) TEXTILE MOUNTAIN - THE HIDDEN BURDEN OF OUR FASHION WASTE

FAQs

How much waste is produced by the fashion industry? ›

The short answer is: extremely. The long, and more detailed answer is: it's estimated that 92 million tons of textile waste is created annually by the fashion industry.

How much pollution is caused by the fashion industry? ›

Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity's carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. What's more, 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year (UNECE, 2018), and washing some types of clothes sends significant amount of microplastics into the ocean.

What percentage of clothing is waste? ›

This equates to more than 30% of our unwanted clothing currently goes to landfill.

Why is there so much waste in the fashion industry? ›

A lot of the clothing waste comes from manufacturers–13 million tons of textiles each year— and from clothing retailers themselves. Manufacturers overproduce the supply of clothing, and retailers end up overstocked– as seasons change, the unsold supply ends up thrown away to landfills.

How much waste is fast fashion? ›

In America alone, an estimated 11.3 million tons of textile waste – equivalent to 85% of all textiles – end up in landfills on a yearly basis. That's equivalent to approximately 81.5 pounds (37 kilograms) per person per year and around 2,150 pieces per second countrywide.

What is so wasteful about fashion? ›

Waste problem of the fashion industry

Only 15% is recycled or donated, and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are plastic fibers, therefore non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose. Synthetic fibers are used in 72% of our clothing.

Is fashion the 2nd biggest polluter? ›

But as a consumer, you're better off reducing your meat consumption, especially red meat, if you are concerned about water, rather than fretting over your cotton garments. But to address the water pollution facet, fashion is not likely the second most polluting industry. Agriculture is at the top.

How fast does fashion harm the environment? ›

The environmental impact of fast fashion comprises the depletion of non-renewable sources, emission of greenhouse gases and the use of massive amounts of water and energy.

How can we reduce fashion waste? ›

How can we reduce our Fashion Environmental Impact?
  1. buy less. ...
  2. Buy CLOTHES FROM sustainable BRANDS. ...
  3. Buy better quality. ...
  4. Think twice before throwing out your clothes. ...
  5. Buy second hand, swap, & rent clothing. ...
  6. Keep an eye on your washing.

How many clothes waste each year? ›

But Americans still throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste.

What percentage of clothing is recycled? ›

80 percent of the textiles that are thrown away can be recycled and used again, whereas, currently only 25 percent is being recycled. Less than 5 percent of all the garments that is thrown in the bin actually end up as waste. Recycling Process: All clothing has a useful second life.

How does clothing waste affect the environment? ›

This amount of waste has detrimental effects on our environment. While some clothing is donated and recycled, the majority of textile waste heads to our landfills where they release greenhouse gases and leach toxins and dyes into the surrounding soil and water.

Where does fast fashion waste go? ›

Fast-fashion choices are ending up in landfills.

The Council for Textile Recycling reports that the average American throws away between 70 and 81 pounds (30-36 kg) of clothing and other textiles annually. Globally, 17 million tonnes of clothes go to landfills — mostly in the Global South.

What happens to fast fashion waste? ›

Overall, toxic fashion contributes to 35% or 190,000 tons per year of ocean microplastic pollution. Even greater, the fashion industry produces 92 millions ton per year of textile waste which primarily ends up in landfills or incinerated.

How toxic is the fashion industry? ›

20% of industrial pollution comes from the textile manufacturing process. Over 8,000 chemicals are used to turn raw materials into clothing. Workers come in direct contact with these chemicals—often without adequate safety protections—and are at risk of contracting deadly diseases.

How many clothes are wasted in the world? ›

Globally we produce 13 million tons of textile waste each year 95% of which could be reused or recycled.

How much fashion ends up in landfill? ›

Almost 80 per cent of unwanted textiles end up in landfill, a report finds.

Which industry is worse for the environment? ›

The oil and gas industry has had a far worse impact on the climate than previously believed, according to a study indicating that human emissions of fossil methane have been underestimated by up to 40%.

How can we reduce our fashion environmental impact? ›

Choose eco-friendly materials

Fabrics contribute a lot to the footprint of our wardrobe. Materials made from natural and organic fibers such as organic cotton, organic hemp, linen, and jute have a low social and environmental impact but some of them consume a lot of water, cotton in particular.

How is fast fashion affecting the earth? ›

The environmental impact of this behaviour is significant: the clothing and textile industry is depleting non-renewable resources, emitting huge quantities of greenhouses gases and using massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water.

Why is fast fashion not sustainable? ›

Fast fashion's negative impact includes its use of cheap, toxic textile dyes—making the fashion industry the one of the largest polluters of clean water globally, right up there with agriculture.

Is the fashion industry one of the biggest polluters? ›

Globally, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after the oil and gas sector. Responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, every UK household, as a result of their clothing consumption, produces the equivalent emissions of driving a modern car for 6,000 miles.

Who causes most pollution? ›

Who are the most polluting countries in the world?
  • China with 9.9 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, largely due to the export of consumer goods and its heavy reliance on coal;
  • The United States with 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted;
  • India with 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted.
25 Jan 2022

What is the most harmful to the environment? ›

World's Deadliest Environmental Threats-1
  1. Pollution. It takes millions of years to eliminate air, water and soil pollution. ...
  2. Population Growth. ...
  3. Global Warming. ...
  4. Depletion of Natural Resources. ...
  5. Waste. ...
  6. Climate Change. ...
  7. Deforestation. ...
  8. Ozone Depletion.

How much clothing is wasted each year? ›

The EPA reports that Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year, equaling just over six percent of total municipal waste (for context, plastics make up 13 percent of our waste stream). On average, 700,000 tons of used clothing gets exported overseas and 2.5 million tons of clothing are recycled.

How much fashion ends up in landfill? ›

Almost 80 per cent of unwanted textiles end up in landfill, a report finds.

How fast does fashion affect the environment? ›

It dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams, while 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year. Even washing clothes releases 500 000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

What percentage of clothes end up in landfills? ›

Landfills received 11.3 million tons of MSW textiles in 2018. This was 7.7 percent of all MSW landfilled.

How can we reduce fashion waste? ›

How can we reduce our Fashion Environmental Impact?
  1. buy less. ...
  2. Buy CLOTHES FROM sustainable BRANDS. ...
  3. Buy better quality. ...
  4. Think twice before throwing out your clothes. ...
  5. Buy second hand, swap, & rent clothing. ...
  6. Keep an eye on your washing.

Why is clothing waste a problem? ›

And when consumers throw away clothing in the garbage, not only does it waste money and resources, but it can take 200+ years for the materials to decompose in a landfill. During the decomposition process, textiles generate greenhouse methane gas and leach toxic chemicals and dyes into the groundwater and our soil.

Where does the fashion waste go? ›

85% Of Our Clothes End Up In Landfills Or Burned

It might come to a surprise to learn that around 85% of textiles thrown away in the U.S. are dumped into landfills or burned -- including unused textiles and unsold clothes.

What percentage of clothing is recycled? ›

80 percent of the textiles that are thrown away can be recycled and used again, whereas, currently only 25 percent is being recycled. Less than 5 percent of all the garments that is thrown in the bin actually end up as waste. Recycling Process: All clothing has a useful second life.

How much clothes are actually recycled? ›

Globally just 12% of the material used for clothing ends up being recycled.

How is fast fashion bad for the environment? ›

Textile dyes are the world's second-largest polluter of water, while pesticides, widely used in cotton cultivation, contaminate soil and groundwater. With inadequate environmental safeguards, these chemicals can leak into waterways and pose massive health risks to farmers and workers, and their communities.

Is fashion the biggest polluting industry? ›

Globally, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after the oil and gas sector.

What clothes are bad for the environment? ›

Polyester and nylon, for example, are made using fossil fuels. Cotton production, too, requires a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Fast fashion also leads to pollution with a dangerously high level of chemicals leaching into our environment.

How can fashion be sustainable? ›

Understand the Sustainable Fashion Consumer
  1. Buy less clothing.
  2. Buy higher quality items built to last.
  3. Buy versatile, staple clothing items.
  4. Purchase clothing items from sustainable brands.
  5. Buy from transparent brands.
  6. Wash clothing with cold water to prevent release of microfibers and plastic into waterways.
28 Apr 2021

What percentage of clothing is recycled globally? ›

Abstract: The expansion of clothing and textile industry and the fast fashion trend among consumers have caused a rapid global increase in textile waste in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream. Worldwide, 75% of textile waste is landfilled, while 25% is recycled or reused.

What happens to clothes that don't sell? ›

If it's still unsold, Target may donate it or sell it to a discount store such as T.J. Maxx or Marshalls. Other companies may shred, burn or simply throw away the stuff they can't sell. Nearly 21 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills each year.

How long do clothes take to decompose? ›

These textiles can essentially be compared to plastic and although they will break down into smaller pieces over time, they are likely to sit in landfills for up to 200 years before they decompose fully. Semi-synthetic fibers are also created through chemical processes, but they are made from natural materials.

Videos

1. Fast fashion - The shady world of cheap clothing | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)
2. TRASHTALK #2.1 The Fashion of Waste
(VIRWa - Vienna Institute for Resources and Waste)
3. The Fashion Industry's Dirty Little Secret: Product Development Waste | Fashion Industry Insight
(TUKATALKS)
4. Regulating the Fashion Industry - An Ecological Necessity
(Facing Future)
5. How sustainable innovation can transform the fashion industry
(Scandinavian MIND)
6. 3 creative ways to fix fashion's waste problem | Amit Kalra
(TED)

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