There has never been a more important time for clothes recycling – the UK could save around £3billion per year from the cost of the resources we use to make and clean clothes if we changed the way we supplied, used and disposed of clothing. This would reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints of clothing consumption by 10-20% each. Being part of the Wrap 2020 Commitment we aim to reduce our own and help others to reduce their environmental footprints

350,000 tonnes, that’s around £140 million worth of used but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year

This equates to more than 30% of our unwanted clothing currently goes to landfill.

We Great Britons send 700,000 tonnes of clothing to recycling centres, textile banks, clothes collections and to charity each year. That’s enough to fill 459 Olympic-size swimming pools.

57% of people say they recycle their textiles with 41% of people saying they’re not aware of recycling facilities for textiles

More than 60% of householders in the UK say they have unwanted clothes and textiles stored in their homes. And we have the perfect solution for them. Look out for our charity clothes bags or call for an individual pick up and know that your unwanted clothes will benefit UK charities and the planet in one, hassle free collection.

Valuing Our Clothes: the cost of UK fashion’ – WRAP 2017

We spoke to Rob at Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer with a keen interest in sustainable fashion, to find out some more about ‘fast fashion’ and the impact of clothing production on the environment. Hawthorn are advocates of sustainable processes, offering their clients eco-friendly options alongside traditional fabric equivalents. This means that the start-up brands they work with can begin their journey in to the fashion industry in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.

We had a chat with Rob to gain a bit of insight into sustainability from the point of view of a manufacturer.

Q1 – The fashion industry is ever changing and adapting to move with the times. What are the most pressing issues facing the industry right now and how will brands remedy them in the coming years?

Rob – It’s true, fashion is one of the most fast paced of all the industries. In the past 20 years or so, this has bred a culture of people wanting to have new clothing constantly. There is a demand for this clothing to be as cheap as possible so that consumers are able to continue purchasing items almost on a throwaway basis. This has become known as “fast fashion”. However, a lot has been done in recent times by the industry to try and combat the issue, with real positive changes having been made in the last few years. The most pressing issue right now however is that of textile waste, both from consumers and from corporations. In 2018, around 350,000 tonnes of clothing was sent to landfill, a staggering figure. Broken down, it works out that of every 30kg of clothing disposed of, only 4.5kg of it is recycled. This is something that can be clearly improved. This isn’t just being caused by consumers however – corporations are guilty of disposing monumental amounts of clothing waste for a number of different reasons. Being as it is such an avoidable problem, we believe the way to start remedying this issue is via education and by raising awareness of what can be done by everyone involved in the industry.

Q2 – Is clothing more difficult to dispose of than other items?

Rob – Clothing isn’t necessarily more difficult to dispose of than other items, it just needs a bit more consideration than other goods. For example, if a brand is disposing of clothing, their first thought may be that there’s no way to recycle it because it has their branding on, and they wouldn’t want to essentially be giving away branded products for free. They may not realise however that there are people out there who can take clothing, de brand it, and then put it to good use elsewhere. This eliminates the need for this clothing to be sent to landfill or the incinerator. From a consumer perspective, it’s not as simple as putting out clothing for recycling with your household waste, but again there are alternatives. Clothing collections by social businesses like Clothes Aid for example are perfect for consumers looking to get clothing they don’t need out of their hair, and giving them to a good cause instead.

Q3 – Why do corporations dispose of so much clothing?

Rob – Corporations dispose of clothing for a variety of reasons, but usually it is to do with brand image in some way. For example, if a brand is selling a jacket which bares their logo for £400, they wouldn’t necessarily want to give this away as it may end up in the hands of someone they wouldn’t consider to be their target audience. They also wouldn’t want previous customers who have spent that amount on the jacket to be left with bitter feelings towards them. Brands also usually want their collections to be as fresh as possible, with end of season sales to make way for new season stock. If they don’t sell out of a piece during the sale however, they wouldn’t then continue to offer it at full price. Some brands will simply opt to dispose of the goods, so they don’t detract from their new range. Unfortunately, the above practices are not in the interests of sustainable fashion, and brands need to be educated as to the alternatives to these practices.

Q4 – Corporations should be leading the way in recycling clothing, but what can consumers do to help?

Rob – Corporations certainly should be leading the way, however consumers have arguably the greatest power over corporations in the fact that their demand dictates supply. This is already becoming apparent as clothing brands pivot more towards sustainability and away from fast fashion. For the average consumer however, the simplest thing to do is to try to either throw away less clothing, or if it’s essential to do so, do it in a way which sees them going to good use.

Q5 – How should clothing be disposed of in order to ensure it goes to good use and not to landfill?

Rob – The routes for disposing of clothing responsibly differ for both corporations and consumers, however they are far easier to access than most think! For corporations, social businesses like Clothes Aid who raise vital funds for a variety of charities would be the perfect solution since they support a wide variety of good causes. Partnering with Clothes Aid would be a way that a lot of businesses can ensure they make a positive difference when disposing of clothing. Consumers also have a wide range of options available to them; If you have a lot of clothing which you’d like to dispose of then you can also donate to organisations such as Clothes Aid who offer a doorstep collection service, and also to charity shops, clothing banks and even local recycling centres, since a lot of councils now have facilities which allow clothing to be recycled. Some organisations even have shops which allow you to be paid for your old and unwanted clothing, which is usually sold on to charity shops in less developed countries for resale.

Q6 – What does the future look like for the environment if the fashion industry takes no action on the textile waste issue?

Rob – Unfortunately, the future doesn’t look good unless changes are made. One of the stark facts that isn’t often thought about is that polyester fibres can take hundreds of years to degrade, and with polyester being one of the most widely used fast fashion fabrics, that is a lot of waste which is avoidable. If more people put to good use their old and unwanted clothing rather than send it to landfill or incinerator, then at least we can be contributing to less polyester being produced now. Thankfully, the industry is starting to become more aware of this issue and it’s beginning to be tackled.

Q7 – Sustainability is an all encompassing topic for the fashion industry. What is the biggest challenge faced by advocates of sustainability in fashion?

Rob – The biggest challenge at the moment is that there are still some consumers out there who want cheap, fast fashion, and therefore there are still brands out there offering it. However, things are starting to change. The consumer is now becoming more environmentally aware and with recent popular documentaries on the subject, awareness is rising. This is great news for sustainable fashion advocates because it forces brands and manufacturers to adapt. The next piece to the puzzle is combating textile waste however, and the more brands and consumers who choose to reuse or recycle rather than throw away fashion, the closer we are to our goal of reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry.