Clothing

The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

These estimates suggest there is an opportunity for local authorities to divert clothing waste away from disposal by promoting better care for clothing and alternative management options. Local authorities also have a role to play in providing advice on extending the life of clothes through enhanced care, re-use and recycling.

What is the impact of clothing?

The WRAP Valuing our clothes report presents estimates for the carbon, water and waste footprints of clothing.

The annual footprint of a household’s newly bought clothing, along with the washing and cleaning of its clothes, is estimated to be equivalent to the:

  • carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles
  • water needed to fill over 1,000 bathtubs
  • weight of over 100 pairs of jeans

The 'Valuing our clothes' report also highlights opportunities across the clothing value chain to reduce the impacts associated with clothing supply, use and disposal. The report covers how to:

  • reduce the impacts of the clothing sold to consumers
  • extend the useful life of clothes 
  • increase supply and demand for pre-owned, re-usable clothing
  • reduce laundry impacts
  • keep clothes out of landfill

Extending the life of clothes

As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as ~2.2 years. Extending the active life of clothing by nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact.

A number of factors can impact on whether a garment is used for longer. These include: 

  • how owners look after their clothes, e.g. whether they follow washing instructions and care information
  • willingness to wear the same item repeatedly, e.g. as part of different outfits, or to buy pre-owned clothing
  • design features such as classic cut and fit and built-in adjustability (e.g. hidden elastic, stretch fabrics) to promote comfort and a flattering versatile fit
  • technical aspects such as resilient fabrics, dyes and colours
  • consumer ability to repair or alter clothes

The WRAP Love Your Clothes campaign aims to raise awareness of the value of clothes and encourage people make the most of the clothes they already have.

The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) brings together sector leaders to reduce the impacts of clothing. This includes reducing production impacts and influencing consumer behaviours to reduce the impact of clothing when in use. 

Alternative management options 

It is possible to gain an income from second hand clothing – either by reselling clothing in the UK, or by selling it to textile merchants for export and sale abroad. There is a lack of understanding that clothes, despite their condition, can often be re-used, and that organisations can gain revenue from selling ‘bulk’ textiles for re-use/recycling. 

The key opportunity lies in making it clear to consumers that various organisations have a use for clothing textiles. This needs to be supported by providing convenient collection methods, which keep clothing in good condition wherever possible. By overcoming this perception barrier, charities, local authorities and other organisations can increase the volume of clothing available to them for recycling – and so gain more revenue from textiles in addition to any income from clothing that is resold.

WRAP have produced a number of re-use how to guides which focus on promoting partnership working between local authorities, waste management companies and third sector organisations. The guide How to write a communications plan to boost re-use provides a step by step guide which will support any campaigns to raise awareness about clothing re-use and recycling.