Britain’s fast-fashion purchases carry a heavy carbon toll, new research reveals.
Commissioned by the anti-poverty charity Oxfam as part of its #SecondhandSeptember campaign, the study found that U.K. shoppers purchase a prodigious 2.2 tons of clothing every minute—more than any other nationality in Europe. They’re also tossing aside garments just as quickly, sometimes after a single use: 11 million garments end up in landfills each week, researchers found.
Buying just one new white cotton shirt, Oxfam says, produces the same greenhouse-gas emissions as driving a car for 35 miles. Together, U.K. consumers are responsible for producing more carbon emissions each month than flying a plane around the globe 900 times.
“We are in a climate emergency—we can no longer turn a blind eye to the emissions produced by new clothes or turn our backs on garment workers paid a pittance who are unable to earn their way out of poverty no matter how many hours they work,” Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.“These staggering facts about fashion’s impact on the planet and the world’s poorest people should make us all think twice before buying something new to wear. As consumers, it’s in our power to make a real difference.”
The average British adult, Oxfam notes, shells out 27 pounds ($33.50) on fast fashion every month and currently owns two items that languish in the closet unworn.
But a survey conducted on behalf of the organization found that more than half (53 percent) of British adults are not aware of fast fashion’s significant environmental and social costs, from synthetic microfibers and other pollutants leaching into waterways to labor-rights abuses at factories. Of those who were informed, more than a third expressed shock and pledged to change the way they buy clothes. Almost one in 10, on the other hand, admitted to “not [being] bothered.”
Purchasing secondhand instead of brand new is one way consumers can tread more gently on the planet, Sriskandarajah said. According to the Waste & Resources Action Program, a U.K. environmental nonprofit, extending the life of a garment by just three months results in a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in its carbon, waste and water footprints.
“Buying secondhand clothes helps to slow the ferocious fast-fashion cycle, giving garments a second lease of life,” he said. “With #SecondHandSeptember, we are sending a clear message to the clothing industry that we don’t want to buy clothes that harm our planet and the people in it.”
Buying used is gaining traction. GlobalData estimates the clothing-resale market to more than double in value from $24 billion today to $51 billion in 2023. Even department-store stalwarts are vying for a piece of that pie. Both Macys and J.C. Penney recently inked deals with ThredUp—which bills itself as the world’s largest online consignment and thrift store—to add pre-owned clothing to their assortments.