A Circular Fashion Economy is about more than clothes

When you shop for a new jumper, how much thought do you give to the fate of the one it will replace? Do you dump a jacket because it starts to look ragged, or falls out of fashion? More and more, the clothing industry is wrestling with the same questions. 

Some retailers are trying to take it out of your hands, embracing the circular economy by increasing their use of recycled and sustainable materials. Swedish firm H&M is the latest to join in, following brands such as Levi Strauss and Patagonia. Laudable though this is, a growing body of evidence suggests that other approaches could do just as much to reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill and help to improve resource security. 

Each year, millions of garments (1/3 of a million tonnes of clothing) end up in landfill in the UK alone. This is ten times the volume reportedly collected for recycling by H&M since 2013. Collecting it doesn’t guarantee reducing landfill. Re-use or recycling options all have their limitations, such as separating mixed fibres for recycling and securing ethical secondhand markets for used clothing. 

One way to avoid the problem is by increasing the active lifetime of clothing. This can reduce the amount of materials consumed and delay the point at which clothing is recycled or disposed of. WRAP – the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme – concluded that the clothing industry could reduce carbon, water and waste impacts by as much as 10% if garments were worn for just three months longer than their current average of around three years.

Article Written by Lynn Oxborrow - Project Academic Lead of Nottingham Trent University.