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Blog / Style & trends / 9 Alarming Clothing Waste Statistics

Style & trends

9 Alarming Clothing Waste Statistics

9 Alarming Clothing Waste Statistics
Līva Pūka

By Līva Pūka

8 min read

In a world brimming with environmental concerns, awareness about clothing waste is still lacking. 

Surely you’ve heard of big fashion conglomerates that bulk up their inventories with thousands of new items every week, adding to the growing problem of overproduction. And let’s be real, our consumption habits are tad out of control, too, to say the least.

This blog post aims to delve deeper into the staggering statistics surrounding clothing waste, shedding light on the magnitude of the problem. We’ll explore the data and examine the role of fast fashion in exacerbating this issue.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ll also provide insights into more sustainable choices and how consumers, designers, and manufacturers can play a pivotal role in reducing clothing waste.

Why clothing waste matters 

Sustainable alternatives and waste recycling guides are more readily available as eco-friendly choices have slowly been incorporated into our everyday lives. But how many skeletons remain in our closets?

As the effects of climate change have become more devastating, consumers and businesses alike have had to reflect on just how much of our lifestyle affects our environment. In this context, the question of fashion consumption has come to forefront. 

Let’s be real, the carbon footprint of our closets grows bigger by the day. From the Fashion Week circuit, to saturated social media feeds and the store windows of your local department store, new clothing, new trends, and new styles surround us at every turn.

Yet the world of fashion opens the doors to creativity, self-expression, and personal identity. Clothes often represent who we are. The industry isn’t going to disappear anytime soon, but it can surely be better. And thanks to this generation’s interest in the climate crisis, change is on the horizon.

To drive positive change, we must first confront just how extensive the environmental influence of clothing waste is. From microplastics being released into the ocean to painfully slow decomposition rates, the imprint our garments leave on the planet is enormous.

Here are 9 clothing waste statistics that further highlight this massive issue.

9 clothing waste statistics 

1. The global fashion industry produces and sells around 200 billion units yearly.

It’s hard to grasp just how colossal the apparel market has become. With such a great impact on the global economy, valued at around $1.5 trillion to be specific, comes an even greater responsibility. Although the fashion industry contributes to economic growth and provides employment for countless designers, garment workers, logistic experts, and retail workers, the environmental impact is growing. This is largely due to resource exploitation, extensive water usage, transportation, and traditional retail models producing clothing in bulk. More on that later.

2. The average consumer purchases 60 percent more clothes than they did in 2000.

Since the early aughts, our closets have gotten fuller and fuller, and each piece of clothing is kept only half as long as it used to be 20 years ago.

Why do we own so many clothes? Research points to the global reach of fast fashion retailers and social media. High-street fashion brands have become household names, securing locations in the heart of every major city and town, making clothing more affordable and accessible than ever before. Similarly, social media marketing popularizes current fashion trends—and so do social media influencers, whose dedicated audiences effectively propel promoted brand sales.

a woman standing in a clothing store

Source: Unsplash

What’s more, over half of our garments get discarded less than a year after they have been purchased. An unsettling fact indeed.

It’s normal to swap out old garments with new clothing at some point or another. But how can we avoid discarding clothes prematurely? 

For example, buying unique, custom clothing makes us more likely to hold onto an item long-term and less likely to rotate it out of our wardrobe. If brands were to embrace more customized options through business models like on-demand production, this could help create more mindful shopping habits (and “forever pieces” to be worn and loved for a long time). 

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3. We wear clothes as few as 7 times before tossing them out.

Sources vary, as do consumer habits across different regions and income categories. However, one thing is clear: higher income groups are responsible for the largest share of fashion's carbon footprint.

To top that, broken zippers, low-quality closures, rips, tears, and pilling—cheaply-made garments can really be a nuisance, too, making it harder to extend the shelf life of our clothing.

Solution? For starters, try focusing on higher-quality garments and gentle care for them. 

4. The US alone is accountable for close to 20 million tons of textile waste every year.

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

1 in 2 people throw their unwanted clothes directly into the trash bin. What is perhaps even more concerning, producers often throw out unsold and unworn stock (more on that later). 

Learning to repurpose and upcycle clothing would be a more sustainable path, transforming old or unwanted garments into new, useful items. Not only does this reduce the burden on landfills, but it also fosters a culture of creativity and environmental responsibility, curbing the relentless cycle of waste.

5. The fashion industry is responsible for up to 8 percent of global carbon emissions every year.

When it comes to carbon emissions, we tend to point the finger at international flights or maritime shipping as the culprits of the ongoing climate crisis. Surprisingly enough, the fashion industry’s carbon footprint amounts to up to 2-8 percent of all global emissions annually, which is more than aviation and shipping emissions combined. By 2030, fashion’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow by more than 50 percent.

6. Discarded textiles can take up to 200 years to decompose.

Along with plastic bottles, milk cartons, tin cans, and food scraps, much of our old clothing sits in landfills. As textile waste gets loaded in landfills, our old garments undergo a decomposition process. Or that’s what we hope. Some of it breaks down more steadily, but some of it lingers way longer. 

When it comes to the decomposition process, natural fibers break down notably quicker than synthetics. Cotton, linen, silk, and wool consist of organic compounds that, in the right conditions, will disintegrate relatively fast. However, synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic decompose slower, if at all.

All the more reason to cherish and maintain your current wardrobe. Extend the lifecycle of your clothes by embracing air-drying and occasionally forgoing a wash. Basic mending skills and a fabric shaver will come in handy, too. When it’s finally time to bid adieu to your cherished pieces, follow your local waste management guidelines. Yet, if apparel isn’t collected separately in your area, raise your voice and advocate for it with your city council. Source: Daily Sabah

Source: Daily Sabah

7. Only 1 percent of post-consumer textiles get recycled into new clothes.

Textile waste statistics show that just 1 percent of all post-consumer textiles in the European market are recycled into new clothes. While some clothes are resold or made into industrial rags, the textile repurpose rate remains alarmingly low, not just in Europe but across the globe.

This can be explained by multiple complex factors, starting from limited consumer awareness on what to do with discarded clothing and ending with the amount of manual labor required to sort the textile waste. However, the two main reasons are rather simple: both the advanced technology and the surrounding infrastructure required to recycle material blends are largely still in development.

Source: Close The Loop

Source: Close The Loop

8. In 2023, more than half of fashion retailers face excess stock.

In many US fashion stores, 2023 started off with a significant dip in sales. This resulted in a significant amount of dead stock that retailers have had to grapple with. Part of dead stock ends up being sold in sales or outlets, but a major part winds up as waste. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. For example, print-on-demand services enable brands to avoid overproducing and overstocking inventory by selling items only produced after a customer has placed an order. Meaning, companies aren’t left with excess products that will have to be dealt with. Moving towards this model is one way the fashion industry can help mitigate clothing waste

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9. Textile production is an extremely thirsty business. 

It consists of various phases, from fiber cultivation and processing to dyeing, rinsing, and finishing the garments—all of which are very water-intensive processes. For example, in 2015, the textile industry used 79 billion cubic meters of water.

The textile industry is estimated to be the third-largest source of water pollution and land use. Besides water, producing textiles also requires land for growing cotton and other fibers. Still, there’s more to the story: the textile industry generates a significant amount of wastewater due to high amounts of chemicals in the garment dye. If not diluted with more water, the highly polluted discharge is deemed unsafe to be released into the environment, and so the textile industry’s water usage skyrockets even more.Source: Statista

Source: Statista

The future of fashion

Fashion is a form of self-expression. For some, personal style is a creative outlet, for others, a new outfit gives them a boost of confidence.

So, what’s next? The ecological forecast seems rather bleak unless more sustainable practices become the norm. It’s essential that the industry focuses on ways to counteract these grim textile waste statistics. And both consumers and producers have to do better in our daily lives to help contribute. 

There are other ways to reduce the negative effects of the apparel industry on the environment. How? Check out these articles on starting a clothing brand sustainably:

How to Start a Sustainable Fashion Brand

How to Strengthen Your Brand’s Sustainability Message in 3 Steps

Despite everything, enthusiasm for fashion doesn’t have to disappear. For example, a more sustainable circular economy model for the fashion industry is taking shape and is defined by these key principles: reducing consumption, keeping clothes in use, utilizing renewable and safe materials, and turning used clothing into new clothing.

On a personal level, give a go to clothing swaps, garment care and repair, use of sustainable fabrics, and upcycling projects, to move towards a greener future for us all.

author

By Līva Pūka on Nov 29, 2023

Līva Pūka

Guest author

Līva is a guest writer at Printful and a devoted literature student. With a passion for cultural development, sustainability, and current events, she strives to develop meaningful connections with her audience. Outside professional and academic ventures, Līva finds great joy in birdwatching, which has opened her eyes to many wonders of the world surrounding us.

Līva is a guest writer at Printful and a devoted literature student. With a passion for cultural development, sustainability, and current events, she strives to develop meaningful connections with her audience. Outside professional and academic ventures, Līva finds great joy in birdwatching, which has opened her eyes to many wonders of the world surrounding us.