New analysis reveals a stack of clothing the height of Mt Everest is sent to landfill every 7 minutes

Despite heightened consumer awareness of the environmental issues surrounding clothing production, as few as 1% of clothes are being recycled into new ones.

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Children’s fashion brand FIVE OF US has created a page visualising the sheer amount of waste the global fashion industry contributes in a 12-month period.

The interactive tool compares volumes of waste to well-known global landmarks, in a bid to open people’s eyes to the severity of the problem. It comes after recent statistics revealed that of the 32 billion garments produced for the fashion industry each year, a whopping 64% will end up in landfill.

The tool asks users how tall a ladder they would have to climb to reach the peak of a year’s worth of fashion landfill, and the answers provide a shocking truth about the current state of the industry:

  • Every 16 seconds the equivalent of the height of the Eiffel Tower is thrown in landfill (324m)
  • The height of the Burj Khalifa is thrown in every 42 seconds (830m)
  • The height of Mt Everest is thrown in every seven minutes (8,849m)
  • In six hours, the pile would be able to reach the International Space Station (408,000m above Earth)
  • In nearly eight months (228 days) the pile could reach the Moon, more than 384 million metres away from Earth

Mt. Everest Base Camp is a ten day trek – whilst its peak can be reached in just seven minutes by the amount of clothing thrown in landfill

Where do the problems lie?

There are a number of factors contributing to the industry’s waste problem, and both producers and consumers are to blame.

  • The massive growth of fast-fashion brands like Shein and H&M has only exacerbated issues. As clothing production more than doubled over the past 20 years from 100 to 200 billion units annually, the average number of times an item gets worn has decreased by 36% – and that number continues to drop.
  • In fact, 94M kg worth of single-use outfits are bought every year, which has a hugely negative impact on the sustainability of the fashion industry.
  • Despite increasing demand from consumers, 25% of fast fashion garments remain unsold, and 12% of fibres are being discarded on shop floors.
  • All of this is contributing to the fashion industry’s place as one of the fastest-growing polluters on our planet. Its global emissions output is predicted to increase by 49% by 2030 if nothing changes
  • As for consumers, we are no better than the producers themselves. Shockingly, half of us throw unwanted clothes directly into the bin, rather than reselling them or giving them to charity.

But are there signs that consumers’ buying habits are beginning to change?

The rise of the sustainable clothing industry

Predicted to grow at an annual rate of 11.6%, the eco-friendly clothing industry is likely to be fashion’s most expanding sector over the coming years.

Which is no surprise, as last year more than two-thirds of UK consumers considered a brand’s sustainable proactiveness before making a purchase. Nish Parekh, co-founder of upcycling fashion brand KAPDAA, believes this trend will continue to grow throughout the industry.

“Green choices, now in vogue, present lucrative opportunities that may have previously seemed a hassle,” says Parekh. “Consumers already judge sustainability as a key importance when buying from brands; those slow to catch on stand to lose out.”

Another brand, LOANHOOD, has been making names in the sustainable space by designing a person-to-person clothes swap and rental model. Individuals can bring items of clothing or even a whole look from their wardrobe and swap it with items brought by others. This solution limits the desire to purchase yet another brand-new jacket that will only be worn twice a year.

Lucy, Loanhood’s founder, explained:

“We started LOANHOOD to solve a problem that we were facing and knew other people were, too. We wanted to be more sustainable and help improve the fashion industry, but we didn’t want to give up that fashion fix.

By circulating what is already hanging in our wardrobe, we can prolong the life of garments, get that fashion fix and buy less but better.”

The second-hand clothing space is also helping to solve the waste crisis, and the most encouraging news is that it has grown exponentially in recent years, with Depop and Vinted now two huge household names.

In fact, Depop’s revenue and gross merchandise sales more than doubled in 2020, to $70M and $650M, respectively.

The growing success and popularity of sustainable clothing brands is exciting for entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses in this space.

Interested? Check out our simple step-by-step guide to starting your own online clothing store – it’ll help you get going as cheaply as possible.

Written by:
Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website. Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Condé Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism. Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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