HOW MUCH WASTE DOES THE FASHION INDUSTRY GENERATE?

Clothes are an everyday necessity, and for many an important aspect of self-expression. Yet we already know that we own more clothes than we can wear. Shopping doesn’t make us happy in the long run. High volumes of fast fashion and rapidly changing trends aren’t catering to our real needs. Still the fashion industry is one of the most lucrative and destructive industries on earth.

The way clothes are made and used today is extremely wasteful. The fashion industry has one of the most complex global production networks. With an extensive and growing environmental and social footprint across the globe, there is an urgent need to accelerate the decision-making process on sustainability in the fashion industry. The current ‘fast fashion’ business model is built on an outdated linear, take-make-dispose model, encouraging over-consumption and generating excessive pollution and waste.

The extent of the problem:

  1. In 2015, the fashion industry consumed nearly 80 billion cubic meters of fresh water, emitted over a million tonnes of CO2 and produced 92 million tonnes of waste. Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017
  2. The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, producing 20% of wastewater. The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion
  3. The fashion Industry generates €1.5 trillion and produces over a billion clothes every year. Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017
  4. In the last 15 years the industry has doubled production. A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)
  5. One garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second. Circular Fibres Initiative
  6. The amount of clothing worn before it is thrown away has fallen by around 40%. World Economic Forum
  7. When it is thrown away, 73% of clothing will be burned or buried in landfill. CEO Agenda 2018
  8. Less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life. A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future (2017)
  9. An estimated 400 billion square meters of textiles are produced annually, of which 60 billion square meters are left on the cutting room floor. Greenpeace
  10. Burberry destroyed 28.6 million pounds worth of finished goods in 2017 Reuters

It has become clear, that for the fashion industry to thrive in the future, it needs a fundamental re-design. It has the opportunity to shift by embracing circular economy principles. This would see business models increase the use of clothes, clothes made from safe and renewable materials, and old clothes used to make new ones. Embracing a circular approach to fashion allows us to transform the unsustainable patterns of production, consumption and trade in the industry. By applying new business models and using technology and innovation, waste can be avoided, environmental impacts minimised, and new economic value generated.

While recycling is certainly one solution, it is by no means the only solution. Recycling is a resource intensive process relying on chemicals and vast amounts of energy, with many unsolved problems making it far from commercially viable. In fact, we should be asking a different question: how can we eliminate the need for recycling altogether? How can we design with the end in mind?

If you are a designer there are many aspects, you could consider:

  • Think about how you could use considered design to increase pattern efficiency (nested, square/geometric) and minimise pattern printing.
  • Use digital programs to test ideas and avoid waste at the prototype stage.
  • Look into manufacturing techniques to reduce waste.
  • Use recycled, organic and natural fabrics. Also reduce fabric mixes which are difficult to recycle.
  • Utilise off-cuts from your clothing to create accessories or other smaller items.
  • Use zero waste pattern cutting techniques so there is less waste on the cutting room floor.
  • Adjust your business model to avoid waste, e.g. made to order and pre-order.
  • Using deadstock materials
  • Help your customers take mutual responsibility in extending a products lifecycle by providing resources to re-sell their worn clothing via your site.

As a consumer you have influence too:

  • Staying away from impulse purchases from fast fashion retailers.
  • Wearing second hand clothing.
  • Re-purposing your existing clothing (95% of discarded clothing can be up-cycled or recycled).
  • Renting clothing
  • Extend the lifecycle of your clothing by only buying quality goods, taking care of it and reselling it.
  • Extend the lifecycle of your clothing by only buying quality goods, taking care of it and reselling it.
  • Care for your clothing by washing (on a cold wash), ironing and using a tumble dryer less.
  • Purchasing clothing made from organic, natural or recycled materials.
  • Not buying according to trends, but buying clothing that will last for the next 20 years and more.

Think about what other actions you can make to help you reduce the waste in your life and business. And if you need help making your business more sustainable get in touch for a consultation.