Why is clothing waste an issue?

  • 8 February 2011
  • Home Energy Centre
Information on the amount of clothing sent to New Zealand landfills is not currently available but a United Kingdom study found that an average of 30 kilograms of clothing and textiles per person is wasted by being sent to landfills each year.

Clothing impacts on the environment in many ways. The production of fabric required to make clothing involves the use of chemicals, water, and energy. Most of the clothes available in New Zealand are made overseas so energy and fuel is also required to transport them to shops.

Cotton agriculture is chemically intensive, accounting for 16 per cent of global insecticide releases – more than any other single crop. Cotton production also uses a lot of water. Depending on the type of cotton you buy, it can take more than 10 tonnes of water to grow enough cotton to make a pair of jeans. There is also the fuel used by agricultural machinery and electricity for production.

Producing man made and synthetic fibres is an energy intensive process. For example, it takes 33 megajoules of energy to make the fabric needed for a viscose blouse. That’s enough to power a one bar electric heater for 9 hours!

It doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve added the clothes to your wardrobe there is the energy used to wash and dry the clothes over their life cycle. Depending on which materials the clothes are made from, as much as 80 per cent of the carbon ‘ footprint’ of clothing can be caused by the washing and care of the garment. Of course you do need to wash your clothes, however you can do this in less energy and water intensive ways. For instance, by only doing full loads of washing and drying your clothes outside. This can save you money on your power bill too.

If unwanted clothing is sent to a landfill it takes up room and reduces the life of the landfill. That means other landfills will need to be built. This is both costly and a waste of resources.

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