Carbon footprint of UK clothing on the rise, despite uptake in resales

The carbon footprint of clothing has climbed by 9% since 2012 in the UK, despite the amount of clothing in household residual waste falling by 50,000 tonnes in the same period, although changes to shopping habits could alleviate environmental pressures.

Online marketplace compiled data from fashion resale websites, google trends, retail reports and analysis from WRAP to find that the carbon footprint of clothing is increasing despite the reduction in waste. found the increase in carbon footprint could be attributed to the low cast of fashion combined with an increasing population. This has led to the average UK woman using only 40% of her wardrobe.

WRAP estimates that while the UK consumes around 1.7m tonnes of textiles annually, more than 600,000 tonnes are sent to landfill or incinerated. Separate research has also found that 350 million clothing items are unused in the UK.

However, a change in attitude is taking place in how long these clothes remain unused in wardrobes. Apparel has an average lifespan of 3.3 years, but spend just one year in wardrobes on average. According to the analysis, millennials are driving interest in resale items for clothing, which has contributed to the 50,000-tonne reduction in clothing waste from households.

Research from resale company thredUP was examined through further research by and found that 30% of millennials have shopped second-hand in the past 12 months, while a further 20% intend to.

Millennials are 2.4 times as likely to shop for resale items because of the environmental impact of clothing, which has become the fourth largest pressure on natural resources behind housing, transport and food, the analysis notes.

The change in shopping habits could help the UK reverse the increase in emissions. Reuse and recycling of clothing offers carbon savings by displacing the sale of new garments which are often made from virgin materials.

Attire options

Companies such as Ikea are hoping to create more demand for second-hand clothes. Earlier this year, the company commenced a UK-based textile take-back pilot, offering consumers in Cardiff the option to hand in unwanted purchases to be reused, repaired or recycled.

The circular economy, championed in the fashion industry by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and even the sharing economy – supported by WRAP’s REBus Life Plus programme – are proving viable options to tweak how consumers interact with products, and some companies are beginning to embrace them.

Clothing and fashion brands are also striving to improve on the environmental impacts of their practices. More than half of the UK clothing market has achieved a collective 10% reduction in carbon emissions through a collaborative involvement with WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP).

In fact, some brands are pushing beyond carbon reductions. International fashion brand H&M has a new sustainability strategy in place to become “climate positive” by 2040 to offset all impacts of its products and operations.

Matt Mace

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