Exploring The Waste Hierarchy

The waste produced by the fashion industry is a well-discussed topic here on the blog, but whilst we regularly discuss the ways in which to upcycle or reduce waste, rarely do we touch on the array of different approaches to reducing waste and the best way to prioritise them. The UK is the fourth largest textile waste producer in Europe, and each year it is estimated that the average Briton throws away 3.1kg of textiles. So in this blogpost let’s take a quick look at the systems used to reduce waste, as well as the most effective routes to a more sustainable fashion and textiles industry.

The Waste Hierarchy is a system that has been modified over time, and many of its steps can be substituted for synonyms that have been put into place through action plans from different government officials, organisations and fashion brands across the country. The list I refer to the most often is one that the International Committee of the Red Cross use for their sustainable development programmes, and is also the list that stays most securely in my memory due to its tactical use of alliteration. However, whichever version of The Waste Hierarchy you use, the overall processes are the same. The list sets out to determine the best, being the first on the list, and worst ways, being nearer the end of the list, to deal with waste from any industry including fashion. It is through referring to this Waste Hierarchy that we can begin to see what the most effective and eco-friendly methods of combatting waste are, whilst also being able to identify which processes should only be used as a last resort.

Pink, Beige and Green Sale Instagram Post
The Waste Hierarchy:
1. Reduce – In the first instance, we should reduce the amount of waste a product or person will produce. This could be through simplifying the packaging or components used in the making of a product, or by taking a more mindful approach to our consumption habits and shopping less.
2. Reuse – Secondly, we should look at reusing a garment in its original form. For example, if you have a party dress that you have already worn on an outing, wear it again! Let’s not be afraid to show how much we love our clothes. This is a great way of combatting fashion’s waste problem as it relies on no additional industrial processes.
3. Recycle and Compost – This is the third option because it is here where we begin to see a use of chemicals, pollutants and energy being reinvested into waste in order to make it usable again. Whilst this is a better approach than just throwing waste into landfill, recycling should not be used as the first point of call for dealing with waste, due to its degrading effects on materials and its use of industrial processes.
4. Recover – If the previous three processes cannot be undertaken, then recovering energy from the waste is the next best thing.
5. Residuals – The last option, and by all means this has to be the last option, is to dispose of waste safely in a landfill. However, obviously we want to avoid this as much as possible, and so we must try and fulfil at least one of the prior four processes first.

I hope this post has been of interest to you, I know I certainly find it inspiring and motivating to explore the many ways we should prioritise dealing with waste in the fashion sector. As always, thank you so much for reading, and let’s make it our mission to not see ‘waste’ as an end of life destination for a garment, but instead as an exciting opportunity to rework the material, and keep it out of landfill but in our loving hands for as long as possible.



UK named fourth largest textile waste producer in Europe


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