How Wasteful Are We? The Fashion Industry’s Shocking Truth

If the average life of clothes could be extended by just nine months it could reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by 20-30%. – Leigh Mapledoram , Program Area Manager,  Wrap UK

Fashion Industry Statistics

  • The global apparel market is valued at 3 trillion dollars, 3,000 billion, and accounts for 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).1
    • Source:
      Retail value of luxury goods market: 339.4 billion dollars
      Value of of the menswear industry: 402 billion dollars
      Value of the womenswear industry: 621 billion dollars
      Bridal Wear market: 57 billion dollars
      Childrenswear market: 186 billion dollars
      Sports footwear market: 90.4 billion dollars
  • Almost 75% of the world’s fashion market is concentrated in Europe, USA, China and Japan.2
  • United Nations Alliance on Sustainable Fashion reports the fashion industry employs over 75 million people worldwide.
  • Second to oil, the clothing and textile industry is the largest polluter in the world.3
  • United Nations Climate Change News states, The fashion industry contributes 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.
  • In 2018 the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes CO2eq. This represents 4% of global carbon emissions – an emissions’ share larger than that of France, Germany and the UK combined.11
  • The US is the largest importer of garments in the world; nearly 40% of apparel products sold in the US are imported from China.2


  • 208M lbs. of waste were generated by single-use outfits in 2019.12
  • 1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothes straight in the trash. The result?  64% of the 32B garments produced each year end up in landfill.12
  • Environmental Protection Agency Clothing and Footwear Waste Management 2018 report: Landfilled: 9,070,000 US tons; Recycled: 1,690,000 US tons; Combustion with Energy Recovery: 2,210,000 US tons.  From 1960 – 2018 all data higher than previous years.
  • Between 2000 and 2014, clothing production doubled with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long. 9
  • Nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry.9
  • Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides, despite using only 3% of the world’s arable land.9
  • 20,000 liters is the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans.10
  • It takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. 3
  • Textile industry is one of the top 3 water wasting industry in China, discharging over 2.5 billion tons of wastewater every year.2
  • About 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. This waste rate has been tolerated industry-wide for decades.4
  • According to Christina Dean, Redress, waste generated in China is not known, with estimates that China will soon make 50% of the world’s clothing – the indications for textile waste there are mind-blowing.  Daily in Hong Kong, there are 253 tons of textiles sent to landfill.


  • Consumers throw away shoes and clothing [versus recycle], an average of 70 pounds per person, annually. 5
  • A few communities have textile recycling programs, about 85% of this waste goes to landfills where it occupies about 5% of landfill space and the amount is growing. 5
  • Up to 95% of the textiles that are land filled each year could be recycled. 7
  • Landfill space is expensive and hard to find. 5
  • Using recycled cotton saves 20,000 liters of water per kilogram of cotton, a water-intensive crop.8

Used Clothing – the second-hand market

  • The secondhand market projected to nearly double the size of fast fashion by 2029.12
  • 208M lbs. of waste were generated by single-use outfits in 2019.12
  • 1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothes straight in the trash. The result?  64% of the 32B garments produced each year end up in landfill.12
  • The U. S. is the largest exporter of secondhand clothing.  It exports over a billion pounds of used clothing every year.6
  • Over 70% of the world’s population use second hand clothes.7
  • Consumers in the United Kingdom have an estimated $46.7 billion worth of unworn clothes in their closets.2

More on Sustainable Fashion:

Take a look at the category Sustainable EDGE and be informed on designers, brands, and global initiatives that are making the case for a circular fashion economy.  Sustainable fashion is a big topic and as you tour the website, you’ll find vetted resources, reports, and links documenting this massive topic.  In the right column you will find over 34 links in the section: Sustainable Fashion: Be Informed | EDGE Suggested Resources.  With periodic updates to this page and throughout the website, we’ve done the homework for you.

Reference Notes:

  3.;  Forbes – Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes on Global Warming
  4. Timo Rissanen, “From 15% to 0: Investigating the creation of fashion without the creation of fabric waste,” Presenter, Kreativ Institut for Design og Teknologi, September 2005.
  7. | Secondary Materials and Recycling Textiles [SMART]
  9. United Nations Partnership on Sustainable Fashion and the SDG’s
  11. Global Fashion Agenda –
  12., online resale –

Other References:

Feature Image:  Recycling International

Follow to receive an email link to ‘an intelligent look at fashion’.  Click on the Follow button to sign up, located in the far right column.

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor

One thought on “How Wasteful Are We? The Fashion Industry’s Shocking Truth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.