mannequins wearing dresses in a shop window.
Fashion and clothing waste facts

Fashion Waste Facts and Statistics

Fast fashion has had a big impact on how we create, buy, wear, and dispose of clothes as individuals and businesses. Clothes production and consumption levels have significantly increased over the past few decades, driven by demand, availability, low costs, and a throwaway culture. It’s also led to unstylish levels of waste.

Every year across the world we produce 92 million tonnes of textile waste. Unless big changes happen and improve how we make, use, and dispose of clothes, it’s estimated that by 2030 we’ll create 134 million tonnes of textile waste globally. And the global fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

To put things in perspective and highlight the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle textiles and clothes we’ve stitched together some key fashion waste facts and statistics. Be at the cutting edge of the fashion and recycling industry with these trendy stats and facts about clothing waste.

What is fashion waste?

Fashion waste often refers to any items of clothing thrown away. However, the industry is responsible for waste in many other areas. This includes manufacturing waste such as offcuts and fabric from the production process, as well as water, dyes, and chemical waste. Then there’s the packaging waste used to protect garments during transport and storage.

There are a few types of fashion waste:

  • Old clothes – items of clothing that are damaged, no longer fit, or are unwanted
  • Stock waste – unsold and out-of-season items from retailers
  • Uniforms and workwear – worn out or old uniforms from schools and workplaces

What causes clothing waste?

The main causes of fashion and clothing waste are overproduction, over-procurement and stocking, and overconsumption. A growing demand for fast fashion – items that are produced quickly and cheaply and then sold at a low cost – encourages a disposable and throwaway culture. Inadequate end-of-life options for textiles also lead to waste.

Cheap clothes mean some people are likelier to buy garments, wear them a few times, and then purchase more new items without a second thought. For damaged clothing, it’s often cheaper and easier to replace rather than repair, which results in more waste. Retailers also create clothing waste by over-ordering and poor inventory.

Fashion waste statistics

There’s nothing more unfashionable than waste but unfortunately, the fashion industry produces plenty of it. Some fashion waste is unavoidable while others could be better managed to reduce rubbish across the sector – or at least ensure it’s reused or recycled.

For an insight into how much refuse the industry creates here are some hip fashion waste statistics:

  • 100 billion new garments are produced annually around the world
  • The worldwide fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions
  • The UN Environment Programme estimates that today people buy 60% more clothes and wear them for half as long
  • Around 20% of worldwide industrial wastewater pollution is from the fashion industry
  • It takes around 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt
  • Of all the clothing thrown away across the world 57% is sent to landfill
  • 25% of global clothing waste is incinerated
  • Clothes made using synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic are responsible for more than 60% of global apparel purchases
  • Synthetic fibres take 80 to 800 times longer to decompose than natural fibres like cotton

Which countries produce 
the most fashion waste?

China and the USA are the two countries that produce the most fashion waste in the world by far. Both nations manufacture and consume billions of clothing items every year. European countries also create lots of textile waste with research finding Italy and Germany lead the way across the continent.

These are the top countries in the world that produce the most fashion waste:

  • China – 20 million tonnes
  • USA – 17 million tonnes
  • India – 7.8 million tonnes
  • Italy – 465,925 tonnes
  • Germany – 391,752 tonnes
  • France – 210,001 tonnes
  • UK – 206,456 tonnes
piles of textile waste in a factory.

Fashion waste statistics for the UK

The UK has produced many world-leading fashion designers from Vivienne Westwood to Stella McCartney, Paul Smith, and Alexander McQueen. Unfortunately, it’s also generated mountains of textile waste – as the fourth-highest producer in Europe. The country’s passion for fashion means we’re constantly buying new items, filling charity shops with old outfits, and sadly binning lots of garments.

Check out some fascinating fashion waste statistics for the UK:

  • Each Briton throws away 1kg of textiles every year on average – the fourth highest in Europe
  • 7kg of fashion waste per person goes to landfill yearly
  • About 30% of unwanted clothes end up in UK landfill sites
  • Every year Brits chuck out 300,000 tonnes of old clothes in their household rubbish bins
  • It’s estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year
  • Less than a fifth of used clothing is recycled in the UK
  • Across the country, more than two tonnes of clothing are bought every minute
  • The average Brit spends £980.50 on new clothes each year

Fast fashion waste statistics

The fast fashion industry is all about the cheap and quick production of clothes that aren’t worn many times. It drives a desire and demand among consumers to buy new and more clothes even if they don’t need them. The manufacturing, transport, and disposal of fast fashion comes at a huge environmental cost.

These fast fashion waste statistics highlight the impact it has on our planet and behaviour:

  • How many times an item of clothing is worn before being discarded has fallen by 36% in the last 15 years
  • Fast fashion brands produce 50% more items today compared to the year 2000
  • An average American throws out 37kg of clothes every year
  • Buying a single white cotton shirt produces the same emissions as driving 35 miles in a car
  • Extending clothing life by nine months would reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by 20 to 30%
  • Using clothes for an extra nine months would also save £5 billion in resources used to supply, launder, and dispose of clothes

Textile waste facts

Textile waste covers more than just clothes – think bedding, towels, and curtains. Global textile waste statistics show that the industry is the third-largest source of water pollution and land use in the world. Manufacturing, using, and disposing of many textiles generates high volumes of waste all over the planet.

Unravel the problems of disposing of old clothes and fabrics with these statistics and facts about textile waste:

  • About 5% of landfill space is taken up by textile waste
  • Textile production releases 2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually
  • Producing textiles creates 42 million tonnes of plastic waste each year
  • 10% of microplastics that enter the ocean every year are from textiles
  • Around 15% of fabric used to manufacture garments is wasted
  • Less than 13% of textile waste is recycled in the European Union (EU)
  • 72% of bedding ends up in landfill
  • Textiles are the third largest category of waste in landfill sites across India
  • Natural fibres break down fastest – cotton takes around three months to decompose, linen takes a few weeks, and silk takes one to two years
  • Synthetic textile waste takes much longer to decompose – polyester can take between 20 and 200 years to break down, nylon takes anywhere from 30 to 40 years, and rubber takes 50 to 80 years
pile of clothes.

Clothing waste facts

Every second a truckload of textile waste is incinerated or disposed of in landfill around the world. Fast fashion and the desire to buy more new clothes more often are leading to higher volumes of textile waste across the planet. To get an idea of the scale of things, here are some uncool clothing waste facts:

  • About 25% of clothing waste is incinerated around the world
  • Just 8% of old clothes are reused and only 10% are recycled across the globe
  • It can take more than 200 years for clothing to decompose in landfill sites
  • 60% of new clothing materials are plastic
  • The average lifespan of clothing is just over three years
  • An average clothing item should last between 100 and 200 wears, though most are thrown out before then
  • In America, the average person throws away just over 30kg of clothing every year
  • Less than 1% of clothing waste is recycled into new clothes – mainly due to the challenges existing recycling systems face
How to reduce clothing waste

Clothing waste at home

The way we buy, wear, and throw away old clothes at home also has a big impact on waste from the fashion and textile industry. More considerate purchasing and disposal methods could help reduce the amount of clothing waste created and help better protect the environment. Here are a few facts about clothes waste at home:

  • From 2012 to 2017 clothing waste produced by UK households decreased by 50,000 tonnes
  • Charity shop sales increased four-fold from £133m to £732m in 20 years
  • Only 70% of the clothes in our wardrobes are worn by Brits
  • There’s a total of around 7 billion items of unused clothing sat in wardrobes across the UK
  • 4 million school uniforms are thrown away every year in the UK

Clothing waste charities

There are various charities across the UK working to reduce clothing waste in a few different ways. These include:

  • Salvation Army – the Salvation Army has around 8,000 clothing banks across the UK where you can donate old garments. These are resold, reused, or recycled.
  • Love Not Landfill – a non-profit campaign that runs events to encourage young fashion fans to buy second-hand, swap, recycle, and give old clothes to charity.
  • TRAID – this charity turns clothes into funds by increasing reuse and funding international development projects that improve working practices and conditions in the textile industry. TRAID provides 700 charity clothes banks in the UK.

How should I get rid 
of my old clothes?

One of the easiest ways to get rid of a few old clothes at home is to donate them to a charity shop if they’re in decent condition. You could also pass them on to friends and family or sell them online using sites such as Vinted, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace.

Try to upcycle any damaged old clothes by turning them into cleaning rags or repair them if possible. Businesses, schools, and other organisations with clothes and textile waste must arrange commercial waste collection to get rid of them safely and legally. At Business Waste we can collect clothing waste from any organisation in the UK.

Call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online today to tell us about the types and volume of textile waste you need collected, where from, and when for a free no-obligation quote.

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