Australia is the second highest consumer of textiles per person in the world.
Each Australian consumes an average of 27 kilograms of new clothing per year and disposes an average 23 kilograms of clothing to landfill each year, or 93 per cent of the textile waste we generate.
Every 10 minutes, Australians dump 15 tonnes of clothing and fabric waste into landfill or it is exported overseas.
The root cause of this waste is “Fast fashion” – cheap, stylish, mass-produced clothes that have a huge impact on the environment.
These garments appeal to shoppers because they are affordable and trendy. But because they aren’t built to last and quickly go out of style, these clothes are quickly discarded, piling up in landfills.
A recent study also revealed that 24% of Australian adults have thrown away clothing after wearing it only once. Of that 38% of millennials (people born after 1981) bought half their wardrobe in the past year, highlighting the trend of young people lapping up fast fashion and the throw-away culture that comes with it.
How about a new t-shirt for $5, shoes for $15, dress for $20 or a suit for $150? They usually don’t survive more than a couple of wears and washing is usually a major issue with such cheap fabrics and flimsy construction.
Sweatshops are making these clothes
In addition to the environmental waste they are often made in sweatshops where workers are employed for long hours in unsafe conditions raising spark major ethical concerns.
With 1 in 6 people in the world working in the global fashion industry, it is undeniable that the lives of many people are tied to our pursuit of fashion.
In Australia about 90% of the clothing we buy is manufactured offshore. The majority of overseas fashion workers are women that are earning, on average, less than $3 per day. They are often working in horrible conditions with no choice to do anything else.
A recent Oxfam report found that as little as 4% of the amount that we pay for our clothing in Australia actually goes to the garment workers themselves. To put that into context: for a $10 t-shirt that could take around an hour to make, workers can expect to earn 40 cents or less!
It’s been going on for 50 years
It all started in the 1970s when massive factories and textile mills opened in China and other countries throughout Asia and Latin America and using cheap labour and material they could mass-produce inexpensive garments quickly.
Add to that the makeup of some materials that are disposed of, such as polyester which is essentially plastic. This creates huge amounts of textile waste polluting the planet that can potentially remain in the environment, taking hundreds of years to break down!
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year and by 2050 it would be 25% unless things change. In addition the synthetic fabrics often used can contain microplastics that can end up in the stomachs of marine animals, including some that wind up as seafood.
Federal Government support
Now the federal government has given a $1 million grant to the Australian Fashion Council that will be used towards addressing the ugly side effects of our fast fashion addiction.
The most pressing issue right now however is that of textile waste, both from consumers and from corporations that end up in landfill. In 2018, around 350,000 tonnes of clothing was sent to landfill, a staggering figure. Broken down, it works out that of every 23kg of clothing disposed of, only 4kg of it is recycled.
Popular fast fashion shops in Australia
Cotton On Clothing Pty Ltd
Group Zara Australia Pty Limited
Uniqlo Australia Pty Ltd
H&M Hennes & Mauritz Pty Limited
Fast Future Brands Pty Ltd.
What can you do?? Try “Slow Fashion”.
When shopping, try to consider quality over quantity and timelessness over trendiness. Will the item last for a long time and will it stay in style so you’ll want to keep wearing it? Also, when shopping, try to research to see if the manufacturer uses sustainable and fair labor practices.
You might also want to consider skipping new clothes and buying secondhand items instead. Most thrift stores not only give clothes a new life, but they also use funds to donate to charity.
Repairing, Caring, and Donating
There are more steps you can take to make sure the clothes you have last longer or don’t end up in a landfill.
- Wash clothes only as necessary, then use a gentle detergent, to extend their life.
- Repair rips, broken zippers, and lost buttons instead of tossing damaged items.
- Donate what you no longer wear. Use this location finder from the Council for Textile Recycling to find a donation/recycling center near you.
- Have a clothing exchange with friends.