Fashion waste & why it matters

The fashion industry in the UK is responsible for a lot of waste. A report by Labfresh, based on 2016 data, found that the UK was the fourth largest textile waste producer in the EU, with over 206,000 tonnes of waste every year. That’s around 3 kilos of waste per person. Of that only 0.3 kilos is recycled and 0.2 kilos are reused. 0.8 kilos are incinerated and 1.7 kilos go into landfill. 

Wrap tells us that the average UK person has 118 items of clothing and 26% of that clothing is unworn. In 2021, they published two reports that compared fashion use against 2013 data. The reports showed that we are keeping clothing for longer than we were in 2013, but that at least 23% of us are still buying clothing for the short term. 

Why is fashion waste so difficult to recycle?

Fashion waste is often made up of mixed fibres. For example, polycotton is a mix of polyester and cotton. Polyester is a man made fibre derived from petroleum. Cotton is a natural fibre, provided it is grown organically and not treated during processing with chemicals. There are ways to separate fibres, but they are costly to the environment because they require heat and time to process (BBC).

Textiles sent to charity schemes may not be worn again. Oxfam’s Wastesaver scheme sends one third of clothing to other countries, sells around 1%-3% of clothing in charity shops and recycles some clothing. The poorest quality clothing is made into mattress stuffing and industrial cleaning cloths.  

Why does fashion waste matter?

Traid estimates that half a million tonnes of microplastics find their way into our waterways and oceans each year from washing polyester, nylon and acrylic. 

The World Bank estimates that 20% of industrial wastewater results from fashion production and releases pollutant chemicals that are bioaccumulative and persistent. 

Fashion textiles can contain Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or so called ‘Forever Chemicals’ because of their long lasting resistance to breaking down. According to the European Environmental Agency, PFAS “can lead to health problems such as liver damage, thyroid disease, obesity, fertility issues and cancer.” 

The Chief Scientists report to the UK Environment Agency (PDF) in August 2021, found that “Our data suggests it is likely that some PFAS are widely present in environmental waters.”

What can we do?

  • We can buy fewer clothes and buy quality clothing that will last. 
  • We can buy clothing made from organic materials without any chemical dyes. 
  • We can recycle and reuse as much clothing as possible to prevent it going to landfill. 

A number of our Blue Patch members make artisan clothing from organic fabrics. 

Y.O.U. Underwear makes underwear from GOTS certified organic cotton that is PETA vegan approved and dyed with low-impact, fibre-reactive dyes. 

Good Joe makes 100% cotton t-shirts.

McNair Shirts makes mountain shirts out of merino wool, moleskin and corduroy.

Rose Fulbright makes loungewear and beachwear in the finest silks printed with ecologically safe certified inks and organic cotton silk.

Glow makes fashion accessories from hand knitted high vis wool.

The Stitch Society makes practical and long lasting clothing from locally sourced and manufactured fabrics.

Chloe Haywood recycles fabrics into upcycled clothing, accessories and millinery. 

Laura’s Loom makes scarves and socks from locally sourced wool, which is milled locally from designs done in-house.

Are you a sustainable fashion producer?  Join our collective today.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.