If you were asked to think about garbage and waste you would likely conjure up images of smelly food scraps in the bin or rubbish lying on the ground. You’re not likely to think about a pile of discarded clothes let alone the under-used clothes in your wardrobe. And when we buy a new dress or pair of shoes, we’re unlikely to focus on where and when we’ll be throwing them out once we get sick of them. And yet, fashion is one of the world’s fastest growing waste problems.
A War on Waste
In 2014, the worldwide consumption of textiles reached about 73 million tonnes and is expected to grow at nearly 4% annually through 2025. TV personality Craig Reucassel made this pretty clear as he clambered his way up a precarious looking mountain of clothes in the last episode of his program, ‘War on Waste’. Craig looked minuscule and very out of place, as he announced to commuters that he was standing on top of 6,000 kilograms (6 tonnes) of discarded clothing. And how long did it take Australians to throw out that amount? Just 10 minutes.
If we’re throwing out that much in just 10 minutes, this means that in one year, Australians are throwing out more than half a million tonnes* of clothing. That’s enough to fill our biggest sports stadium two and a half times over. In the UK, roughly 2 million tonnes of clothing and textiles are thrown away every year and only 16% of that waste is ever reused. In the US the EPA has estimated shoppers throw away at least 13 million tons* of clothes each year. And Canada produces enough textile waste to create a mountain three times the size of Toronto’s Rogers Centre stadium. In fact, consumers in North America are purchasing (and wasting) fives times as much clothing as they did 25 years ago!
I’ve never liked math, but if it takes 2,700 litres of water (700 gallons) to produce just one cotton t-shirt, then I don’t want to think about the amount of resources that are being wasted by all that throwaway clothing. Not to mention that it looks like we’re throwing away a lot of money too.
“But I always take them to the charity store…”
I hear what you’re saying. “Sure, but I donate my clothes to charity. I’m not really throwing them away, I’m helping the needy.” Not so fast! Since the rise of our fast fashion culture, charities are oversupplied with poorly made clothing that is not fit for re-sale. It’s just too easy for us to chuck our cheap, flimsy items in a charity bin! The already under-funded charities are left with the burden of paying for low-quality clothing to be sent to landfill. Not only is this a large part of the waste problem, it’s also wasting money that should be used to help the disadvantaged. Before donating clothes to your local charity, ask yourself – would I give this piece of clothing to a close friend?
Buy less, wear more
Here are 6 simple ways you can help reduce that mountain of fashion waste.
Before you buy anything new ask yourself – will I wear it at least 30 times? If the answer is ‘no’, then you probably don’t need it and should consider steering clear of the item. Read more about #30wears from founder Livia Firth.
Craft yourself a capsule wardrobe
Small collections of clothing, mindfully selected to pair well will keep you looking great and versatile throughout a season. Not sure where to start? Read our capsule wardrobe how-to-guide.
Organise a clothes swap with your friends
A clothing swap is a fun way to catch up with friends and score some new clothes, cost-free and waste free!
Find stylish second-hand bargains
Hit your local op-shop or vintage market before looking elsewhere. We’ve got you covered on how to op-shop like a stylist.
Become a slow fashionista
How do you counteract fast fashion? Well, with slow fashion of course!
The slow fashion movement is about counteracting impulsive shopping through creativity and fresh perspectives. You can shop your wardrobe with stylist’s tricks, repair and rework old clothes – maybe learning new skills along the way and invest in quality, timeless clothing instead of going for quantity and the latest trend. All to help foster a mindful approach to your style. Check our 9 ethical fashion hacks for more details and ideas on slow fashion.
Shop clothing that is ethically and sustainably produced
One of the great things about awareness raising campaigns like the War on Waste is that more and more brands respond to consumer demands for sustainable products. You might be surprised by the number of stylish fashion brands that are wholeheartedly committed to reducing their waste.
The Good On You app is your one-stop-shop for this information. By rating brands based on their environmental impact as well as their labour and animal welfare practices, the app empowers you to shop in-line with your values, meaning if you care about waste, you can put now your money where your mouth is without spending hours on Google!
Hopefully these tips will inspire you to start your own personal fashion War On Waste! If you’ve got more ideas, let us know in the comments.
* 1 tonne (metric ton) = 1.1 US ton.