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Energy and waste

  1. Transport
  2. Energy
  3. Landfill

Transport , high energy and inefficient production processes mean that the energy costs of textiles and clothing are high.

1.2 million tons of clothing went to landfill in 2005 in the UK alone. (DEFRA 2007)

It is possible for fashion businesses to take effective steps to reduce their environmental footprint, and that of the industry as a whole, in terms of energy and waste.

The most forward looking businesses in the fashion sector are doing this through sourcing products for their collections from recycled yarn, fabric, or garments, through minimising packaging and waste, and through reducing energy use.

1. Transport

The Fashion industry is an international business with the production of a single garment often involving at least three different countries.

‘We might decide to buy yarn from Korean producers but have it woven and dyed in Taiwan… the Japanese have the best zippers and buttons, but they manufacture them mostly in China… then we determine that… the best place to make the garments is Thailand… so we ship everything there… if you talk to the big global consumer products companies, they are all moving in this direction… towards being best on a global scale.’ Victor Yung, Chairman of Li&Fung, Hong Kong’s major garment supplier to American and European brands, 2002 (Oxfam, 2004)

We’re not a manufacturer. To produce our clothes, we contract with garment manufacturers around the world, and we’re typically one of many customers in a garment factory. Our products are made in approximately 3,000 factories in about 50 countries. (International fashion retail company, 2004)

By supporting the development of local or national supply chains in countries of production, companies can add value and build the capacity of the garment sector in less developed countries- as well as reducing the complexity of their global transport footprint.

2. Energy

The largest climate change impact from clothing is the energy wasted in washing, tumble-drying and ironing. In the life of an average T-shirt 50% of the global climate change impact of a T-shirt can be reduced by lowering the washing temperature and eliminating tumble drying and ironing. (Well Dressed?, Cambridge University 2006)

3. Landfill

It is estimated that more than 1 million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year. (www.wasteonline.org.uk)

Most of the waste produced in the UK ends up in landfill sites, which poses a threat to local ground water supplies. Every time it rains, water drains through all the rubbish and picks up chemical and hazardous materials. This includes chemicals used in clothing and textiles such as dyes and bleaches.


More information

Useful links

  • Waste online provides information on waste minimisations, waste reduction, waste recycling and waste reuse in an accessible and effective manner.

  • Well Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom, University of Cambridge report including energy use by the industry

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