We’re Rating Countries On Their Fashion Sustainability Levels

  • by Vivienne Austin

When it comes to sustainable fashion, there appears to be a gap between the intentions of eco-conscious shoppers and the actual environmental impacts. The data, when analysed country-by-country, reveals interesting insights into consumer demand trends online versus clothing waste and reuse statistics on the ground.

The top 10 countries most interested in sustainable fashion, according to research by online retailer JewelleryBox, are: United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Australia, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, and Canada.

Who leads in interest?

The UK shows the most interest in sustainable fashion, with over 300,000 more annual Google searches on the topic than any other country in the study. The most searched term in the UK is ‘second-hand clothing‘, with over 84,000 annual Google searches. However, the UK ranks 7th in clothing waste exports, disposing of 379,490,752kg of garments annually.

Ireland ranks second in terms of how interested the country is in sustainable fashion, with 455.36 searches on sustainable fashion topics per 100,000 people, while New Zealand follows in third place with 432.40 Google searches per 100,000 people.

Who exports and imports the most waste?

Belgium tops in exporting worn clothing per head, closely followed by the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. São Tomé and Príncipe receive the most worn clothing per head, closely followed by many other countries. Luckily, these poorer nations like São Tomé and Príncipe, Ghana, Gambia and Nicaragua make use of this textile waste influx by operating some of the world’s largest second-hand clothes markets. 

This data highlights that although wealthier nations generate a significant amount of clothing waste, it is often the poorer countries that bear the burden of managing it. While some of this waste will be recycled to create new items in the expanding circular economy, a considerable portion will not be reused.

A significant amount of this waste is expected to end up in landfills, where the synthetic materials frequently used in fashion items fail to decompose effectively. This can lead to their release into the local environment, causing further damage. Moreover, many fashion industry businesses resort to burning surplus stock, discarding items that require energy and resources to produce, and emitting CO2 and other harmful substances into the air. While burning fashion waste can generate electricity, it is highly inefficient. Unfortunately, this method is frequently used to dispose of waste in the absence of landfills.



The truth about textile waste

We’ve recently spoken a lot about Ghana and its Kantamanto market in Accra, the biggest second-hand market in whole world and we’ve spoken about how after The Guardian’s reportage showed the sad reality of this textile waste, there’s been a bit of backlash from the country’s Used Clothing Dealers Association.


Last year, The Guardian's report revealed that approximately 100 tonnes of clothing are discarded as waste from the Accra market each day. Only about 30% is managed by the city, while the rest is disposed of in illegal landfills or waterways. However, according to Ghana's Association, this narrative is not entirely accurate. In fact, they claim that less than 5% of the imported clothing is actually considered waste. Contrary to the Association's assertions, The Guardian's visual documentation depicts a distressing scene, highlighting the negative impact of unsold clothing on the local environment. The photos reveal textile waste clinging to cliffs along the coastline, and littering lagoons and beaches, originating from discarded clothing from the Western world.


Given Ghana's significant reliance on textile imports for its economy, the Association emphasises the positive aspects of the trade, such as encouraging entrepreneurial endeavours. However, the truth is that a substantial portion of the imported clothing ends up as waste, impacting local environments negatively.


In Ghana and similar countries, the reliance on textile imports for economic sustenance is significant as because of the big export numbers, they have lost their own textile industry and now rely on the second-hand industry. There’s a call for policymakers to rethink their perceptions about Africa and Asia's role in the second-hand clothing market. The issue of deteriorating clothing quality in these markets stems from overconsumption and fast fashion trends in the West, creating a cycle of waste that affects both producers and consumers. In light of this, would it deter you from buying fast fashion?


[information sourced on theguardian.com, fashionunited.co.uk and sustmeme.com

Featured Image sourced on canva.com, Image 1: Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash]


Older Post Newer Post