The Big Issues for the Global Fashion Industry are its impact on Climate Change and that over 80% of clothing items are never given the chance of a second life

The global fashion supply chain is estimated to account for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the aviation and maritime industry combined.

It is also the fourth most impactful industry on the environment and is responsible for around 20% of all global freshwater pollution incidents.  The over-irrigation of cotton plantations in central Asia has led to one of the biggest environmental disasters of all-time with the disappearance of the Aral Sea.

However, the good news is, that despite its tiny size, compared to the global fashion industry, the global used clothing industry has been shown is reducing many of these impacts.

The used clothing industry substantially reduces carbon impacts

Independent research estimates that the used clothing industry reduces carbon emissions of clothing by 60%[1].  Separate research by suggests that for every 100 used garments sold globally this displaces the sale of 60 new garments[2].

The detailed sorting of used clothing in the UK means that waste and recycling grades are removed.

Recently media reports have been focusing attention on used clothing being sent to landfill in Africa, without published to back the claims being made.

However, goods collected by Textile Recycling Association members typically have their items put through a detailed sorting process that removes all contamination and separates out the re-use and recycling grades.  The quality re-useable items are typically sorted into approximately 120 different grades to be sold on.  The buyers of these grades then arrange for the onward shipment of clothing into their own countries.

Reports by the Kenyan Institute of Economic Affairs regarding the used clothing industry states that the quality of clothing sold was the perfect grading as it is very precise and in detailed categories from the suppliers before it is shipped to Kenya.  Also, in an article published in the Sunday Times on the 27th June 2021, the reporter said ‘the UK have the best reputation and are usually well sorted’. In the same article a trader in the Kantamanto market (Ghana) stated that ‘the UK bales are more fashionable than other countries’.

“The used clothing industry is by far the most sustainable part of the global clothing supply chain.  With positive impacts on carbon reduction and other environmental benefits.  With UN Climate Change Conference just weeks away and climate change rightfully at the forefront of the agenda, we urge the public to buy less new clothing and better quality, buy more second hand and to ensure all unwanted items as sent for re-use and recycling”

said Alan Wheeler – Chief Executive of the Textile Recycling Association.

Over 80% of clothing and textiles produced globally don’t get a second life

In the UK we currently purchase approximately 1 million tonnes of new clothing each year. Of this approximately only 620,000 tonnes are collected for re-use and recycling. The UK has one of the highest re-use and recycling rates in the world, which is something to be proud of but there is still work to be done.

However, Alan Wheeler also said,

“Various recent estimates suggest that the global fashion industry produces around 100 billion new garments every year, but only around 10 billion used garments are traded annually by the used textiles industry. This is only about 10% of all items put on the market. A small additional percentage will get second lives through charity shops, internet sales and more informal routes. But the vast majority of clothes will be chucked in the bin, by their first and only owner. This is a travesty.

The UK re-uses or recycles 62% which is substantially more than most of the rest of the World.”

The TRA’s simple message to consumers is:

Buy less new clothing and buy better. Then ensure that their unwanted clothing is sent for re-use and recycling which is vital for the environment. The Textile Recycling Association and its members will continue to work with partners from across the global clothing supply chain to increase re-use and recycling further, therefore reducing wastage and tackling the issues and barriers within the system to further supporting the improvements to sustainability of the global fashion industry.

[1] Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions by Reusing and Recycling Used Clothing in Japan – University of Kogakuin, Semba et al, 2020.

[2] QSA Partners – Fashion -Does buying pre-loved clothing mean buying less new? 2020