Fast fashion and landfills

DateJan 8, 2019
AuthorAlice Canning

At this time of year, it’s easy to get carried away with shopping when everywhere we look there are special deals and post-Christmas sales. But it can be easy to forget about the impact that fast fashion can have on our environment.

In this post, I want to explore the link between fashion and landfills and offer some advice on how we might be able combat this important issue.

The stats

The UK based charity WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) has estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfills each year, and a staggering £30 billion worth of unused clothing is still sitting in our wardrobes nationwide (WRAP, 2018). This level of waste is enough to fill 459 Olympic-size swimming pools (Clothes Aid, 2013).

There is some good news, the amount of clothing being sent to landfill fell by 14% between 2012 and 2016 (Smithers, 2017). However, three in five of our garments still end up in landfills or incinerators within a year (Harrabin, 2018), so there are still improvements that we can all make towards alleviating this problem.

A big part of the issue can be routed to our throw away culture, with constant sales on in the shops and the impact of social media it can be easy to feel we need to keep up with trends as we are inundated with fashion content online every day. If action isn’t taken, one quarter of our total impact on climate change will be due to clothes consumption by 2050 (Harrabin, 2018).

In the UK the average lifetime for a garment is estimated at 2.2 years, and extending the life of such a garment by just 9 months can significantly reduce its environmental impact (Wrap, 2018).  With this being said, it’s important that we follow washing and care information for our clothing, and when we can to try and repair or alter items that we might have otherwise thrown away.

Clearing out your wardrobe doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. In the cases where you have simply had enough of some of your clothes, donating them to your local clothing bank or charity can be a good option. Some organisations are able to gain revenue from selling bulk textiles for reuse/recycling, and a lot of our discarded clothes in the UK are also transported to new homes across the world. Wrap estimated that more than 70% of all UK reused clothing is sent overseas where it then becomes part of a global second-hand trade in countries such as Ghana, Pakistan and Ukraine (Rogers, 2015). A lot of our old clothes are also sold on to textile merchants who then transform our donated textiles into tradable goods.

What we can do?

Some of these statistics can seem quite alarming, but there are improvements being made at the time of writing. Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) launched an enquiry into the sustainability of the fashion industry this summer, with the intention to look into how the industry can remodel itself to “be both thriving and sustainable” (Cole, 2018). With enquiries such as these, there is now more than ever a pressure on some of our nation’s more popular high street shops to do better and evaluate their sustainability.

This being said, we can’t rely on the issue being solved from the top down. We can make a difference by looking to some simple changes we can make in our own lives.

A few of these could include:

  • Donate or resell items you no longer want rather than throw them away
  • To shop second hand when you can, or organise a clothes swap with some of your friends
  • Consider the quality of the clothes you are buying, when possible it can be a better idea to spend more on an item of clothing that will last and buy less of the cheaper and lower quality items
  • Hold on to your clothes for longer, and try to ‘re-shop’ your own stash, as we can all be guilty of forgetting about the stuff hiding at the back of our wardrobe.


Our clothes shouldn’t have to cost the earth, nor should we have to jeopardize our sense of style or interest in fashion. However, through being more mindful about the fashion industry and trying to help where we can we should be able to work towards a more sustainable future.

We offer a wide range of reports which contain active and historical landfill data from authoritative sources, including the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, British Geological Survey (BGS), Local Authorities and historical Ordnance Survey mapping. Please browse our product selection for more information.