In recent decades, fashion and other textiles have been increasingly reduced to disposable items. What is considered a trend today will disappear in the depths of a wardrobe tomorrow. With low prices and ever-changing collections, fashion brands and the clothing industry as a whole are tempting shoppers to over-consume mass-produced items made from low quality textiles. The extent of this consumption often becomes apparent only when entire wardrobes are cleared out from old or unused clothing. While clothes that have become out of fashion end up in collections of old clothing to be repurposed at best, many pieces are often disposed of, despite being in perfect condition. Textile waste has therefore become a big problem in recent years.
With a diverse collection of innovative textiles that require less washing and can therefore be worn longer, we at LABFRESH want to encourage people to change their behavioral patterns one step at a time. To make the urgent need to reduce textile waste clear, we have analysed the 15 European nations that produce the largest amounts of textile waste each year. In addition to the total amount of fashion waste produced yearly, the level of private expenditure on new clothing, the market share of the industry in each country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the amount of exported clothing contribute to the calculation of the ranking of the largest textile polluting countries.
When considered together, the analysed countries produce more than two million tons of textile waste annually, which is then recycled or disposed of permanently. In order to make the magnitude of the waste clearly comprehensible, we have calculated a per capita share of the annual textile waste and of the respective disposal methods for each country. While 10% of all textile waste stays on the market as second hand clothing, a further 8% can be added back to the production cycle through recycling, as revealed in a report of the European Commission's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS). However, the remaining quantity is permanently disposed of. Almost a quarter (24,3%) of all textile waste is incinerated in a CO²-intensive process, and more than half (57,1%) of fashion waste ends up in landfills, which are especially harmful to the environment. These figures highlight how that the less textile waste is produced, the better it is for people and the environment.
See the numbers
1. Country 2. Yearly Total Textile waste (Tonnes) 3. Yearly textile waste per person (Kg) 4. Yearly recycled textile waste per person (Kg) 5. Yearly reusable textile waste per person (Kg) 6. Yearly incinerated textile waste per person (Kg) 7. Yearly landfilled textile waste per person (Kg) 8. Spending Per person, pound per capita (2018) 9. Yearly export of worn clothing per person (Kg) 10. Final Score (100-0, 100 being the worst)
The study of the European countries polluting the most from a textile waste perspective is a comparative analysis of the handling of fashion waste in 15 countries in the European Union. In order to establish a ranking, data on textile waste from 2016 was sourced from the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat). The selected countries were then examined by the following factors: Total quantity in tonnes (textile waste and by disposal technique), spending on new clothing, share of the clothing industry on the gross domestic product (size of the clothing industry and of the market) and export volume of worn clothing (second hand). The calculation was carried out using an evaluation system that rated each factor of the analysed countries between 0 to 100. While the least sustainable country in each factor received a score of 100, the most sustainable one received a score of 0. The final ranking is a sum of all the factors. More information on the definition of the factors, the calculation and all sources can be found in detail in the methodology.