- New research from ReLondon and University College London shows that Londoners acquire 154,600 tonnes of new clothes, or 48 garments each, every year – a fashion habit which creates over 2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
- If Londoners reduced their new clothing purchases by 30% – by swapping out around 12 new purchases for second-hand items instead, and repairing more of their existing wardrobe – London’s fashion-related emissions could be brought down by a staggering 30%.
- Londoners also get rid of 44 items of clothes every year – 40% of which end up going to landfill or incineration.
- The remaining 60% get collected by councils, charities and textile merchants – and although at least 10% of those items get reused within London, around two thirds of them get sent overseas due to a lack of demand for second-hand clothes in the UK.
- The research shows that 92% of London’s clothes are imported from elsewhere, in a global supply chain which is on track to use over a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
ReLondon’s new report published today, ‘London’s fashion footprint’, details the impact of London’s fashion habits on damaging greenhouse gas emissions and traces the flow of clothing throughout Greater London’s entire fashion supply chain: from imports and fibre processing to fabric and apparel manufacturing, and through to redistribution and end-of-use waste treatment. Greenhouse gas emissions are then linked to these flows, identifying where carbon hotspots occur and showing that fashion makes a significant contribution to the city’s consumption-based emissions associated with the stuff that we use.
But the report also shows how cities and their residents can act to make a difference, highlighting scenarios and London-specific interventions which can help to keep global temperature rises within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. If Londoners reduced their new clothing purchases by 30% – by swapping out around 12 new purchases for second-hand items instead, and repairing more of their existing wardrobe – London’s fashion-related emissions could be brought down by a staggering 30%.
The research, conducted by University College London (UCL), supported by Circle Economy and funded through the University of Exeter-led UKRI Circular Economy Hub under the NICER programme, uses an innovative material flow analysis methodology that looks at climate impacts through a consumption lens, rather than just detailing production-related emissions. This is vital for big cities as they are net importers of products and services, underlined by the fact that London imports 92% of its clothing – with an overwhelming 87% of the total emissions produced by London’s fashion supply chain being linked to those imports. This is in significant contrast to the 12% of emissions associated with the very small amount of clothing that is actually manufactured within London; and the remaining 1% of emissions which are linked to post-consumer waste management.
Wayne Hubbard, CEO of ReLondon
This report shows the global nature of our fast fashion fixation. The cost of cheap clothing isn’t just financial: it has huge environmental and social impacts that are largely excluded from the price we pay for our clothes. But if we buy fewer new clothes, more second-hand and vintage, and repair and cherish what we already own we can all make a massive reduction in our own personal contribution to global climate change.
Shirley Rodrigues, London Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy
Clothing and textile production is both resource-intensive and a major contributor to global carbon emissions, with this report laying bare how harmful our shopping habits are. In tackling the climate emergency and preserving our precious natural resources, it is vital that we embrace pre-loved clothing and take better care of the things we already own, all of which supports the Mayor’s vision for a greener and more prosperous London for all.
Fiona Charnley, Co-director of the UKRI National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Hub
This pioneering interdisciplinary research takes an unprecedented deep dive into London’s fashion supply chain and the behaviours associated with fast fashion. The evidence presented not only uncovers the reality of our material consumption but demonstrates the important role of individuals in enabling a transition towards a circular fashion economy and reduced individual and city-scale carbon emissions.
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- In 2019, London acquired 154,600 tonnes of clothing and got rid of 142,700 tonnes. This equates to a huge 48 items of new clothing on average being acquired per person per year, with an overwhelming 92% of clothing made elsewhere and imported into the city.
- Londoners’ consumption of clothing in 2019 resulted in the production of 2,009,300 tonnes C02eq, around 23 tonnes CO2eq per person.
- An overwhelming 87% of the total consumption-based emissions produced by London’s fashion supply chain are linked to imports. This is in significant contrast to the 12% of emissions that are associated with clothing that is manufactured within London. The remaining 1% comes from emissions linked to post-consumer waste management.
- If concerted and co-ordinated actions are taken to reduce Londoners’ demand for new clothing, promote circular business models and shift towards lower emission fibres, London has the potential to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the city’s fashion supply chain by 34%. 30% of these emissions savings come from reducing the amount of new clothes being bought through extending the life of existing clothing and buying more second-hand clothing.
- The most common fibre types in the clothing consumed by Londoners are synthetic fibres (54%) and cotton fibres (43%).
- Of the 142,700 tonnes of clothing discarded by Londoners in 2019 (around 44 items of clothing per person), over 40% ended up in the waste bin where 90% is lost to energy from waste/incineration and 10% goes to landfill.
- The remaining 60% is collected by charities, local authorities and textile merchants who play a crucial role in diverting clothing from end-of-use waste treatment. However, although at least 10% of those items are reused within London, around two-thirds are exported overseas either due to a lack of quality, lack of domestic demand, or excess volume, with the rest being discarded or downcycled due to damage and contamination.
- Fast fashion poses a significant challenge for charities and other collectors as it has resulted in an increase in the volume of clothing donated, but a decrease in its quality and condition. According to the charities involved in this research, fast fashion donations have very little resale value.
ReLondon is a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management and transform the city into a leading low carbon circular economy. ReLondon’s team delivers tailored support to government, businesses and citizens. The organisation works to reduce waste, increase recycling and accelerate London’s transition to a low carbon circular economy by: Empowering London’s boroughs and businesses by exploring, testing and proving transformative innovations with them; advocating for policy or regulatory change; and encouraging behaviour change at all levelsrnReLondon was established as a statutory Board under the Greater London Authority Act 2007 as the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB).
UCL ISR is a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Higher Education Circular Economy network (EMF) and conducts international leading research in the areas of sustainable resources, decarbonisation pathways and the circular economy.
This research was funded through the UKRI CE-Hub under the NICER programme. The CE-Hub, led by the University of Exeter, brings together academics, industry practitioners, policymakers and civic society stakeholders committed to delivering circular economy research and innovation programmes in a joint and systemic way. It is focused on establishing the scientific evidence, tools and methods to support the implementation of a circular economy, knowledge sharing and collaboration. The NICER programme is the largest and most comprehensive investment in UK Circular Economy research and innovation to date.
As an impact organisation, Circle Economy connects and empowers a global community to create the conditions for systemic transformation toward a Circular Economy. With nature as a mentor, Circle Economy works alongside businesses, cities and national governments to identify opportunities to make the transition to the circular economy and provides a powerful combination of practical and scalable solutions to turn these opportunities into practice.
 Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2017). A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future.