The 12th of the UN sustainable development goals is to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Between 2000 and 2017, the world’s ‘material footprint’ increased by 70%, with fast fashion playing a large role in this. The UK alone sends around 300,000 tonnes of clothes to landfill every year.

According to figures from the European Parliamentary Research Service, the fashion industry uses around 1.5 trillion litres of water annually. The industry’s intense business water usage is resulting in an increasing water footprint. The growing and manufacturing of a single cotton shirt requires around 2,700 litres of water - one person’s drinking water needs for two and a half years. The dyeing and treatment of fabrics causes 20% of clean water pollution, as well as 15% of microplastics found in the ocean. Yet 87% of our clothes end up in landfill or incinerators, and 30% of garments are disposed of without being worn. So of the global textile waste of 92 million tonnes each year, that means 27.6 million tonnes of clothing has never even been worn. If just one shirt uses 2,700 litres of water to make, how much water is wasted making things we don’t even use?

The fashion industry is also responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gases (more than all flights and maritime shipping put together), and is also a major contributor to deforestation and soil degradation.

What is the fashion industry doing about sustainability?

The world’s largest multinational chemical production company, BASF, has committed itself to sustainable production by launching its e3 Sustainable Cotton Program. The program tracks and verifies cotton produced by farmers who produce “socially equitable, economically viable, environmentally responsible cotton”. Measurements include water and energy usage, pesticides, carbon emissions and soil carbon amongst others.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, in conjunction with core partners H&M, Nike and Lenzing, (manufacturer of high-quality, botanic fibres such as TENCEL™) have suggested phasing in A New Textiles Economy. Their proposal is to move away from the ‘take, make, waste’ linear system that is proving to be so expensive in ecological terms, and replace it with a system based on the circular economy model. They want to phase out substances of concern and the release of microfibre, increase clothing utilisation, radically improve recycling in order to reduce the amount of virgin materials required and make better use of renewables.

Slow fashion

Some small fashion companies do what they can to reduce waste by only making what they sell. The business model is to collect orders before a deadline so they know exactly how much fabric and materials they need before ordering them. Only then are the garments made and sent to the customers. In this way, waste is kept to an absolute minimum and there will be no unsold clothing that ends up in landfill.

Vintage fashion

Small shops and online stores specialising in high quality vintage clothing have sprung up all over the place. The second-hand clothes once only found in charity shops are now coveted vintage fashion. In fact, 66% of British consumers have bought or are interested in second-hand fashion, so when Levi’s began selling second-hand jeans, it was proving that even the biggest of brands now recognise that sustainability is actually good for business.


Taking unwanted or worn out clothing and turning it into something new is a crafting trend that has really taken off. Whether it’s turning two old shirts into one new one, a pair of jeans into a pair of shorts or simply adding embroidery or patches to repair and cover holes, many people are finding ways of making their favourite clothes last longer. Upcycling is even a regular and much loved part of the Great British Sewing Bee.

There is a market for sustainable fashion

In its UK Fashion and Sustainability Market Report 2021, Mintel identified that Gen Z and Millennials are showing high levels of concern about sustainability. The report’s authors concluded that: “There are huge opportunities for brands and retailers to shift towards more sustainable materials for clothing and footwear that are less damaging to the environment.”

So next time you think you haven’t got a thing to wear, think of the effect on the environment before going to the shops.

Helping our customers reach business sustainability goals

Castle Water is committed to protecting the environment and as a water retailer we support our customers to do the same through improved water efficiency resources, and responsible consumption.

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