Textile waste is one of the most pressing, but perhaps not frequently talked about environmental problems faced globally. It is a direct result of the increasingly larger and short-lived consumption of textiles and clothing articles. More often than not, at the receiving end of criticism is the fast fashion industry, which relies heavily on imports, usually sourced from developing countries, and in high volumes due to even higher demands. Joint estimates from Euratex and Eurostat showed that in the EU, household consumption of textiles and clothing was as high as nearly 520 billion euros in 2018.
Europe’s textile waste producers
One tragic result of such high levels of production and by extension consumption is the textile waste generated when they are discarded. According to data published by Eurostat, Italy was the leading textile polluter among the EU countries, having accumulated approximately 466 thousand tonnes of textile waste in 2016. Italy was followed by Germany, France, and the UK, where over 200 thousand tonnes of textiles were discarded in the same year. When divided by population, this amount varied between just over two kilograms and nearly 15 kilograms of annual textile waste.
The afterlife of discarded textiles
So what happens to textiles when they get thrown away? Potential scenarios for the fate of textile waste are reusing, recycling, incinerating, and sending the textiles to landfill. Unfortunately, the quantity of landfilled textile surpasses that of reused, recycled or incinerated, averaging at about 3.1 kilograms per person in the EU. The reuse of textiles includes exporting them to destinations both in and outside the EU. When textile waste is recovered by recycling; it can be reprocessed as raw material, and the dissolved fiber can later be downcycled to make products such as rags or polishing cloths, or used in insulation.
Yearly total textile waste produced per person in the European Union (EU) in 2016, by country
The source makes the following note regarding the methodology used in creating the data: "The total textile waste per country divided by its respective population, after converting the yearly textile waste from Tonnes to Kilograms. The information on each country’s population was sourced from 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects."
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Labfresh. (January 17, 2020). Yearly total textile waste produced per person in the European Union (EU) in 2016, by country (in kilograms) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090566/textile-waste-generated-in-the-european-union-per-person/
Labfresh. "Yearly total textile waste produced per person in the European Union (EU) in 2016, by country (in kilograms)." Chart. January 17, 2020. Statista. Accessed May 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090566/textile-waste-generated-in-the-european-union-per-person/
Labfresh. (2020). Yearly total textile waste produced per person in the European Union (EU) in 2016, by country (in kilograms). Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: May 29, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090566/textile-waste-generated-in-the-european-union-per-person/
Labfresh. "Yearly Total Textile Waste Produced per Person in The European Union (Eu) in 2016, by Country (in Kilograms)." Statista, Statista Inc., 17 Jan 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090566/textile-waste-generated-in-the-european-union-per-person/
Labfresh, Yearly total textile waste produced per person in the European Union (EU) in 2016, by country (in kilograms) Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090566/textile-waste-generated-in-the-european-union-per-person/ (last visited May 29, 2022)