Why do we waste so much clothing?
It has become the norm to recycle paper, plastic and food but a vast proportion of used clothing still ends up in landfill. Post-war, people routinely repaired and reused clothing due to scarce resources but clothing is now cheap and plentiful and there is less need to do so. The worrying question is, what is the cost to society, and the environment, of this wastefulness?
How much textile waste is produced?
According to a report from the Guardian, it is predicted that 235 million items of clothing will be sent to landfill over the next year. This equates to the throwing away of £140 million worth of still wearable items. During a wardrobe clearout, people discard 19 items of clothing on average and 7 of these are put straight in the bin. Men are the worst offenders with 82% saying they would throw away used clothes rather than recycling them, compared to 69% of women. It’s a disturbing fact that clothing has the 4th biggest impact on the environment after transport, housing & food, causing 10% of all global carbon emissions. Of all the textiles in landfill, 85% are products from the fashion industry.
Why do people waste clothing?
When clothes are so freely and cheaply available, there is less incentive for people to make do and mend. The culture has shifted towards one where old clothes are simply disposed of and replaced with new ones. More impulse purchases are made and then never worn meaning that over 60% of households have unwanted clothes in their home. When surveyed, 49% people claimed that they didn’t recycle all clothing items because they didn’t think they could due them being worn out or dirty. 16% said that they didn’t have time to take them to a charity shop and 6% weren’t aware that it was possible to recycle clothes. Three-quarters of the UK population throw some items of clothing in the bin because they aren’t aware of the opportunities for recycling.
What is the impact of sending clothes to landfill?
Clothes take hundreds of years to decompose and so remain in landfill taking up space for centuries. If we don’t recycle textiles then we need to make more clothes to replace the ones that have ended up in landfill, and the environmental impact of this is huge. For example, producing enough cotton for just one t-shirt can use up to half a kilogram of pesticide, which can then get into waterways and have a detrimental effect on the health of wildlife. Not to mention the natural resources needed for the manufacturing process.
What are the alternatives?
Putting clothes in the bin effectively sends them directly to landfill but a little creative thinking can make their destination much more meaningful.
● Many people don’t realise but charities can reuse or recycle almost anything, even if items are damaged or dirty.
● Some clothes shops offer either depositories for used clothes or the option to take in an old item for every new item bought.
● Looking after your clothes to make them last longer! Careful washing according to the label and proper storage means that you can continue to enjoy them.
● Buy second hand. There are huge bargains to be had on great quality, hardly used clothes.
● Give to organisations who export to foreign markets where clothing shops can create mini enterprises.
● Recycled clothing can be turned into insulation, stuffing for furniture and material for making paper.
These alternatives provide much happier outcomes for consumers and for the environment. Why not get in touch about how we can bring clothing recycling to your community?
One of our freely supplied textile banks supporting the heartship charity. Northern Ireland & Ireland community groups, charities, schools & shops can find out our bank locations or request your own on this website