Which countries are the most interested in dressing sustainably? And which actually recycle the most clothes?
It’s no secret that the planet’s climate is in crisis, with rising temperatures, pollution and environmental destruction making the planet less and less habitable with each passing year. This harsh reality has driven several changes in consumer behaviour, such as only buying from environmentally friendly companies, upcycling old items, and avoiding overly packaged products.
These trends are part of a growing movement whereby consumers are demanding more from companies, and making their concerns about the environment heard and acted upon in the process. This can be seen in the huge rise of environmentally conscious products, with everything from recycled jewellery to biodegradable packaging being much more commonplace.
However, there are several industries with a particularly bad reputation for polluting our planet. One of these is the fast fashion industry, which churns out millions of garments each year at very low prices, leading consumers to treat them as disposable products. The production of this clothing, as well as the waste generated, takes an enormous toll on the environment, with many garments containing fabrics that are not biodegradable.
To help build a better picture of the state of the global fashion industry and its customers, we here at jewellerybox have conducted a short study. By looking at export and import statistics for used clothing, we can determine which countries throw out the most clothing, as well as which import the most used fashion items, bearing the brunt of the industry’s pollution. We’ll take a look at consumer interest in sustainable clothing by measuring the number of searches for a variety of sustainable fashion-related terms across 50 of the world’s largest economies. This will allow us to see which countries are leading the way in demanding more sustainable solutions in the fashion industry.
Interest in sustainable fashion across developed nations
Here we can see which countries make the most Google searches for terms relating to sustainable fashion. To make it an equal playing field, we’ve calculated the number of searches per 100,000 people and ranked the countries accordingly, revealing the top 20 in the table below.
- United Kingdom
Sustainable fashion searches per 100,000 people: 498.89
The people of the United Kingdom are the most conscious of sustainability in fashion and clothing, with 498.89 sustainable fashion searches per 100,000 people in the country.
Sustainable fashion searches per 100,000 people: 455.36
Ireland takes second place with 455.36 searches for sustainable fashion topics per 100,000 people.
- New Zealand
Sustainable fashion searches per 100,000 people: 432.40
In third place is New Zealand, where residents made 432.40 searches for topics around sustainable fashion per 100,000 people.
The countries that export the most clothing waste
This section focuses on exported worn clothes, comparing the volume that each country ships abroad. Countries that ship higher volumes of worn clothing are more wasteful, producing the largest shares of clothing waste and exacerbating the issue of unsustainable fast fashion.
NET Exported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 1,228,523 kg
Belgium exports the most worn clothing per head, with a NET export of 1,228,523 kg per 100,000 people in the country. This huge volume of exported used clothing reveals Belgians as some of the biggest offenders when it comes to fast fashion and textile waste.
- United Arab Emirates
NET Exported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 846,708 kg
In second place, with NET 846,708 kg of exported clothes per 100,000 people is the United Arab Emirates.
NET Exported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 766,357 kg
Switzerland takes third place with NET 766,357 kg of worn clothing exports per 100,000 people.
The countries that import the most used clothes
These are the countries the largest NET imported volume of worn clothing per 100,000 people, revealing where in the world bears the brunt of the fashion waste epidemic. This waste is either reused, recycled into new garments, burned, or sent to landfill.
- Sao Tome and Principe
NET Imported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 680,919 kg
The small island nation of Sao Tome and Principe receives the most worn clothing per head of any country, with NET imports of 680,919 kg per 100,000 people.
NET Imported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 579,808 kg
The second largest NET importer of worn clothing per capita is Gambia, which receives 579,808 kg of fashion waste per 100,000 people.
NET Imported Worn Clothes per 100,000: 563,891 kg
Nicaragua sees the third highest NET import rate of worn clothing per head, with 563,891 kg of used clothes being brought into the country for every 100,000 people.
The divide between rich and poor nations
This data clearly shows that while richer nations produce much more clothing waste, it is the poorer countries that are often left to process it. While some of this waste will undoubtedly be recycled into new garments and products as a part of the growing circular economy, large quantities of it will not.
Much of this waste will end up being sent to landfill, where the synthetic materials used in many fashion items will not properly biodegrade and may enter the local ecosystem, causing further environmental damage.
However, many companies in the fashion industry engage in burning end of season stock, wasting the products that have taken energy and materials to produce while also releasing CO2 and other chemicals into the atmosphere. Burned fashion waste can be a source of electricity but it is highly inefficient, though unfortunately, it is a widespread method of disposing of waste when landfills are unavailable.
We wanted to find out which countries are the most sustainable when it comes to the fashion industry, as well as which countries’ consumers are most interested in sustainable fashion.
To do this, we first took a list of 50 nations with large, developed economies and used Google Keyword Explorer to find out how many searches for terms relating to sustainable fashion were made in each location. We then used population data from World Population Review to calculate the number of searches per 100,000 people, revealing those with the highest rates as having the greatest interest in sustainable fashion.
We also used UN data on volumes of imported and exported worn clothes to find out which countries’ populations produce the most fashion waste, as well as which countries take on the most waste relative to their size. To do this, we first calculated the NET import and export volumes for each country, and then used this figure to work out the rate per 100,000 people.