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Ethical shoppers browse preloved clothes, yoga mats

This Is How Much Clothing Waste Goes to Landfill in the UK

Let's talk about the UK's waste problem - fashion is one the big culprits, since UK households binned 300,000 tonnes of clothing in 2016.

Green Heart Collective founders Helen and Andy discuss the issue of waste and fast fashion in the UK and what we can all do to make a difference. 

Fashion Waste Is Just a Part of the UK’s Waste Problem

Fast Fashion and Waste Statistics UK

Andy: Waste is a big problem - we fill holes in the ground with it. We incinerate it creating even bigger environmental issues. And sometimes we even recycle it.

In the UK we manage to recycle 45.6% of what we give to local authorities to take away - which sounds like my school report “Could do better”. But some sectors of waste are much worse. 

Clothing waste seems like something we should be good at dealing with but in 2019 54% of clothing went to landfill, 25% was incinerated, just 9% was recycled and 12% reused. Very poor performance.

We are the second biggest producer in the world of electronic waste - we create 24kg of e-waste per person per year. Wow - that is a lot of phones, TVs and computers. Only Norway generates more per person.

However, not all waste is equal - if you have used an item for years and then discard it, it perhaps feels more justifiable than single use plastics that we dispose of everyday.

Food packaging accounts for 75% of single use plastics and the government claims we recycle 50% of it.

However, there are millions of tonnes of waste which are not accounted for. It gets produced and no one can account for how it was disposed of. Having been involved in three local litter picks over the last couple of weeks, I have a pretty good idea where it all is.

Why Fast Fashion is Bad: It's Because of Trends

Helen: We all have too much stuff, that’s the problem. And we have to get rid of it to make room for more new things. Because we keep buying new things when we don’t really need them. Because we get a buzz out of buying new things

We’re targeted by advertising telling us we need the latest model, chuck out the chintz, step up, keep up, stay on trend.

But how can we stay on trend when the fast fashion industry is designed to make you feel "out of trend" after just one week?

From a Huffpost article ‘5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know’, I discovered that:

 ‘Once upon a time, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast forward and the fashion industry is now churning out 52 "micro-seasons" per year. With new trends coming out every week, the goal of fast fashion is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.

With designers creating new looks on a weekly basis, the fashion calendar for these companies is set up to deliberately make the customer feel off-trend after the first wear.’

How does the Waste Caused by Fast Fashion Make you Feel, and What can we do About it?

Helen: When I read things like that [about fast fashion's excesses], it sickens me. When you know something, you can’t unknow it - the statistics around waste, the true cost of fashion to people and planet. It sucks the joy out of a trip to the metro centre.

Andy: When we buy a new product we need to think like they do in the travel industry. When we say we are going to Spain on holiday - we are doing more than that - we are going to Spain and we then we are coming back!

Products are designed seemingly with no concern with what will happen when it’s normal life is over. We wouldn’t dream of booking a holiday that didn’t include return travel - when is it ok to create products for us to buy with no concern about what happens at the end of its life?

We need a more circular economy.

Read More: Why The Circular Economy Is Important

What do Clothes Mean to you?

Helen: I love clothes. It took a while for me to figure that out, but I see clothes as a means of self-expression. I love choosing what to wear each day. I’m not conventional. One of my friends called me an ‘eccentric dresser’. I love styles and textures and colours. Clothes give me joy.

But I haven’t bought any new clothes for about two years now, and I don’t intend to buy new clothes ever again. I love charity shops and vintage shops but I know some people don’t.

I had a vision of a cool and quirky space filled with beautiful preloved clothes and accessories and other items - a place where hearts and minds could be changed, where people could be converted to buying preloved instead of buying new.

Case Study on Saving Fashion from Landfill: Green Heart Collective 

Helen: Green Heart Collective offers an alternative, a more sustainable retail model. Over-consumerism and waste are a grim reality in our world. We want to be a part of the solution. 

At Green Heart Collective, we take donations of preloved items and sort them and repair them, adding value to items that would otherwise have been sent to landfill.

We initially aimed to create a sustainable business to divert 100 tonnes of waste from landfill in our first two years. We now sell on our own website, Depop and eBay and face to face at our shop on Gateshead High Street. We continue to run events and workshops around sustainability, climate emergency, upcycling and recycling.

What Makes You Think You Can Make This Work, Who Are You To Do This?

Andy: 25 years ago this week [article originally published in 2021], I started work in the North East for the first time. I joined Traidcraft as head of communications with a genuine belief that we might only need Traidcraft for a few more years.

I felt we were at a tipping point.

The fair trade mark was taking off and new initiatives like the  “Ethical Trading Initiative” launched - I was on the initial advisory panel.

And yet, 25 years on, fair trade is still the exception and Ethical Trade has still got so much to do - Aldi finally joined it just 3 weeks ago!!

What we achieved at Traidcraft and Ethical Superstore - which I later went on to found - was to show that change is possible and people want to do the right thing.

But you have to make it easy for people. When you build a great team and have a clear vision you can make things happen. My skill is connecting the dots to make the links to drive that change. And that is what we plan to do here.

Helen: As for me, six years ago when I was working at Asda Living less than half a mile from here, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the headquarters of Walmart in Arkansas and everyone in store joked that I came back with green blood.

Well now I have a green heart. It’s been a journey, but nothing matters more to me now than playing my part in raising awareness and challenging those in power about the climate emergency we are facing right now. I have two gorgeous granddaughters, two more grandchildren on the way. I need them to know that I did all that I could to slow down climate catastrophe.

So I will make difficult lifestyle choices, and I will engage in non violent direct action and I will do all that I can to make Green Heart Collective a success.

What can we Achieve if we Work Together?

Helen: Together, we can change the world. I really believe that.

Andy: Together we can. We’re all in this together. We have all proved over the last year that we can do hard things. 

However we can’t accept business as usual and so we are building an unusual business. We are a social enterprise - any profits must be invested into our mission of diverting waste away from landfill. This isn’t about making money - it’s about making a difference. 

We are structured as a collective - a group of people with a common purpose. Some will be leaders, some will be employed and some will be volunteers. All will have a voice in making this a better place to work and a better place to change the world.

And you can help and be a part of our collective too.

UK Waste Fact-File (2021)

  1. 300,000 tonnes of clothing was thrown away in the UK in 2016
  2. The UK recycles 45.6% of what they give to local authorities to take away.
  3. In 2019 54% of clothing went to landfill, 25% was incinerated, just 9% was recycled and 12% reused.
  4. The UK creates 24kg of e-waste per person per year.

  5. Food packaging accounts for 75% of the UK's single use plastics and the government claims the UK recycles 50% of it.
  6. The fashion industry is now churning out 52 "micro-seasons" per year.

Statistics in this article were up to date when article was originally published in 2021.


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1 comment

  • Devastating facts. Are there any companies which recycle textiles and send to landfill.

    Shane Kendall

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