It’s estimated that the UK and USA send around 12 million tonnes of clothing to landfills every year, and although some of these garments will of course bio-degrade, the man-made items such as polyester will not, taking years to rot away and very often releasing methane gas, a gas 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
The big issue however centres on the fact that this 12 million tonnes also includes waste from retailers, meaning that much of their contribution to the stockpile will be completely new and unused, unlike the consumer waste that in theory has at least seen some use.
But what are the reasons for this incredible volume of clothing? One of them is the nature of modern fashion; cyclical trends demanded by ever-more savvy customers – a trend originating with the increasing disposable incomes of post WW2 baby-boomers - means that once certain clothes are out of season they are effectively useless, and it’s this dead stock that is finding itself buried in landfills which today is combined with the driving down of import costs, as a result of the low wages of foreign workers.
As well as this simple waste, there is also the environmental cost of production. To make the cotton for a pair of jeans it takes around 8,500 litres of water, which is again squandered if nobody actually ever wears the jeans, and the other stages of the process (distribution by lorry, factory pollution etc.) also add to the overall effect of the garments.
Another reason is poor organisation on the part of many retailers. Things like merchandise and assortment planning should be managed by a dedicated employee and with the relevant tools/expertise, and steps should be made to re-use and recycle clothes that have ended up as terminal stock.
Although there is waste in every industry, it’s these unused and perfectly serviceable garments ending up on the scrapheap that should be addressed, and with the high street at least feeling the pinch in the last few years, it will be a real challenge for retailers to try and cut down this waste.
Daniel N, on behalf of Quantiv