Wall of waste

There is a wall of textile waste forming. It is fed from textile waste that flows from factories and cascades from closets. This wall reflects a contrasting image to the flashy images that ooze from pages of glossy magazines and off the catwalks. 

This wall has size and impact. 

The total annual generation of all types of textile waste in China is estimated to be more than 20 million tonnes1. European Union consumers discard 5.8 million tonnes of textiles every year2. Closer to home, an average of 217 tonnes of textiles are dumped into Hong Kong’s landfills every day3 representing approximately 9083 discarded garments entering into Hong Kong’s landfills every hour4.

The need to combat this textile waste is as real for the environment as it is for the economy.

Textile production results in drastic natural resource depletion and it causes serious environmental pollution, with The World Bank estimating that 17-20 percent of global industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles. With textile production being so polluting, such high waste numbers are even more unpalatable. Textile waste represents lost economic value, with reports estimating that China’s potential textile waste market value may be as high as RMB60 billion5.

As a result, we are seeing a growing artillery of waste-reducing techniques developed by fashion designers, brands and industry. These multi-stakeholders are making their own dents in the wall and are further driven by the need to protect their bottom lines and to promote ‘better’ business practices. 

Fashion designers play an important role in reducing textile waste. An estimated 80-90 percent of the environmental and economic impact of a product is determined by the designer6, so what they may lack in size, compared with the giants of the mass fashion and textile industries that spun pollution on Hong Kong’s doorstep, designers make up for in power. Emerging designers in The EcoChic Design Award reduce waste by eliminating waste at the design stage, through zero-waste design, and by using textile waste in their garments through up-cycling and reconstruction. Notable established designer, Orsola de Castro, successfully up-cycles textile waste through her brand, Reclaim to Wear. Her larger-scale textile waste up-cycling collection collaborations with other brands, such Topshop, Tesco and Speedo, demonstrates the wider viability of up-cycling in the mainstream fashion market.

Several brands are working at different stages along the supply chain to reduce textile waste. The "Recycled Collection by Esprit" range is made using recycled textiles, which were created by recycling Esprit’s own textile waste from their own supply chain. H&M, M&S and PUMA have developed take-back campaigns for consumers to drop off unwanted clothes in-store so as to increase post-consumer clothing waste reduction. 

The broader industry is getting engaged, albeit sporadically. Many textile manufacturers, including Central Textiles, Crystal Group and Yagi & Co., have developed exciting ranges of recycled yarns and textiles to soak up fibre and textile waste, without compromising quality. 

Whilst these examples demonstrate positive initiatives to reduce textile waste, greater efforts across the supply chain are urgently required. The wall of waste is continuously growing, given the fashion industry’s rapid cycles and consumers’ lust for fast fashion trends. 

But if we can see the wall as an opportunity and not an obstacle, then we are halfway towards winning the battle.

This article first appeared in the EcoChic Design Award 2016 magazine.


  1. China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization, 2013
  2. European Commission
  3. Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong, 2011
  4. This approximation was made on the estimation that 50% of all textiles entering Hong Kong’s landfills are used clothes and that each garment weighs 500g.
  5. China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization, 2013
  6. Graedel et al, 1995