Research for my Campaign on Fashion Industries Disposal of Returns – Part 1


We all know climate change is affecting us in one way or another, so for this project, I wanted to focus on how and why fashion industries dispose of brand-new clothing returns into landfill. Why are returned items not being re-sold? To raise more awareness, I wanted to research this topic and create a campaign, to educate consumers to think more about recycling, renting, or investing more in quality rather than quantity of clothes with more lifespan to help find a way to reduce waste and help save the planet.

When I was a young woman, like many others I was buying Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Vogue magazines and looking at the latest fashion trends wanting to be seen in new clothes. I am guilty of buying fast fashion and disposing of clothes at the local charity shop. The temptation with ‘Buy now, pay later’ schemes allow young consumers to order with no upfront costs, with easy online access to order FREE delivery and return, makes it harder for young people to resist purchasing more, even more so when there are impulse shopping sales on discounted Black Friday’s and through the Christmas sale holiday season. Albeit to combat returns some stores are now charging for returns. 

The challenge is whether we can change young people’s relationship with clothes and encourage clothes swaps like the ‘Vinted’ app, social swap gatherings, charity donations, demoting old clothes to use for decorating, gardening or DIY projects, repurposing or repairing clothes if you are a dab hand with a sewing machine. Cutting up old clothes to use for cleaning, renting for special occasion clothes for example a prom, wedding, or christening outfit from places like or  Recently, (October 2022) I’ve seen an ITV TV advert from John Lewis advertising women’s party dress rental, hopefully, this will buck the trend on the high street. Read more here:

Covid-19 lockdowns during 2020-21 would have effected sales of fast-fashion clothes and along with the cost-of-living crisis we are facing in 2022 in the UK, it made me wonder how sales are now, but according to (, 2022) ‘Demand for fashion defies cost of living crunch, it seems as a nation we are looking for escapism from the everyday drudgery of lockdowns, it is above pre-pandemic levels since the return of socialising. It also states that people are now looking to invest in clothes that are better brands and that will last a few months.’ We’ll see how sales for fashion change over the coming autumn/winter of 2022.

Climate and Environmental Impact

I read a news article called ‘The Challenges facing retailers’ from Manchester University which states…

“Carbon dioxide is initially emitted through the collection of returns, before increasing as returns are either incinerated or deposited in landfill. Due to the prevalence of synthetic fibres in fast fashion, returns can take up to 100 years to fully decompose, emitting carbon dioxide and methane in the process, as well as leaching harmful substances into the surrounding soil.” (Manchester Metropolitan University, 2022)

Looking at these statistics, would this be enough to make you think twice…

“20,000 people die of cancer and miscarriages every year as a result of chemicals sprayed on cotton. 23% of all chemicals produced worldwide are used for the textile industry.”  (Sustain Your Style, 2022)

The effect on the planet will affect generations to come, consumers need to re-consider their spending on clothes and waste. Could celebrity and social media influencers vying for fast fashion, promote quality over quantity?

A promising outlook from this journal reported … 

“The findings of this study reveal that young female consumers are unaware of the need for clothing recycling. However, they agree that there is a general lack of knowledge of how and where clothing is disposed of, or even how it is made, such as the environmental consequences of artificial fibres and intensive cotton production. This lack of awareness is thought to be a result of lack of media coverage. If the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing and disposal was more widely publicized, participants indicated that clothing retailers would soon have to adapt their collections and sales strategies. Participants also stated that they might consider modifying their clothing consumption and disposal behaviour if they were more aware of the social and environmental consequences.

In the future, the media may be able to help alter consumers’ disposal habits by providing more information about sustainable consumption in the area of fashion clothing, and local councils by increasing consumer awareness of textile-recycling provision along with glass, paper and plastics.” (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009, P7)

In the UK the government brought in the UK Landfill Tax in 1996 to help reduce the amount of waste. A company must pay for a license for landfill and waste must be disposed of properly with the aim to recycle what it can. As a society we need to look at ways to combat the throwaway culture and adopt the UK’s Waste Plan, the 3 R’s ‘Reduce, Re-use and Recycle’.

The UK government ‘Waste Prevention Programme for England’ says…

“Building on the landmark Resources & Waste Strategy, the Government will consult stakeholders by the end of 2022 on options for textiles, such as an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme which would ensure the industry contributes to the costs of recycling, supported by measures to encourage better design and labelling. This will help to boost the reuse and recycling of textiles and reduce the environmental footprint of the sector.

The fashion industry is estimated to account for 4% of annual global carbon emissions, while textiles production leads to greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of France, Germany and the UK. We buy and throw away increasing amounts of fabrics, with the purchase of clothing rising by almost 20% between 2012 and 2016, and around 921,000 tonnes of used textiles disposed of in household waste each year.” (, 2021)

Lobby groups and the UK government

The UK government was under scrutiny overseas when in 2019 it rejected tackling the fast-fashions part of our global climate crisis. The rejection of ‘Fixing Fashion’ published on the UK Parliament website from the Environmental Audit Committee had a series of recommendations, including a 1p charge per garment levy from retailers which would generate £35 million to help with collection and sorting in the UK. Stopping incinerating and landfilling leftover stock and tax breaks for fashion brands that are more sustainable. The Cross-party MP’s lobbying ‘Fixing Fashion’ also wanted the government to make retailers have an ‘Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme’ for textiles in 2019. 

The UK Parliament report says under the title ‘The environmental cost of our clothes’ 

“The way we make, use and throw away our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution. Synthetic fibres are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, in fish and shellfish.” (UK Parliament, 2019)

In the UK we buy more clothes than in any other country in Europe which means we over consume and waste more. This alone will have left many in frustration at the rejection of ratifying the ‘Fixing Fashion’ proposals. The governments response to this was to cite the ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’ which covers very little on fashion.

Through research, I noted that the government had also cited SCAP (Sustainable Clothing Action Plan) 2020 Commitment from they have ‘brought together fashion and charity retailers along with textile recyclers to reduce the impacts of clothing consumed in the UK’ (Wrap, SCAP 2020)

 They stated on their website that  “From 2012 to 2020 our pioneering industry-led action plan delivered positive environmental and economic outcomes for forward-looking UK fashion and textiles organisations.” (Wrap, SCAP 2020)

This initiative along with petitions to force the government into tackling the sustainability of clothing and climate change contributed by textiles in landfills and incinerations should be actioned now. Greta Thunberg a young famous climate activist is ideally placed to highlight the fast-fashion waste issue, she can or could resonate with other young people her age, who are the main buyers and target audience of high street fashion for a campaign this in turn could generate a petition for not just the UK government but governments worldwide to come up with a plan for improved sustainability.

Globally, on a positive note the United Nations as ‘UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion’ says…

 “Through the Alliance, the UN commits to changing the path of fashion, reducing its negative environmental and social impacts; and turning fashion into a driver of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.”  (

Past fast fashion campaign examples

Here are some examples from the industry and how they are tackling it, I did a google search and found these here, demonstrating adverts, to name a few from Levi’s, Jigsaw, Everlane and Lacoste within the top 10 Levi’s came out at number 1 on ‘Buy Better, Wear Longer’ shown here,

This second example is from Jigsaw ‘For Life, Not Landfill’ campaign seen below “It was created to make people think about the hidden costs of low-quality, mass-produced clothing.” (SMD Magazine, November 2021)

Source image: The Dots

Past waste campaign from Olio

Looking through further examples, I wanted to see what the government has done, which is nothing specific on fast fashion but Olio has done a household general waste campaign and fast fashion does contribute to it. Hell Yeah! an agency working for  Olio, made this campaign last year ‘Let’s not waste our wonderful world’ using Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’ sung by children to pull at the heartstrings and to get the message across about the next generation. With the payoff ‘Share more, waste less’. 

Tessa Clarke, co-founder, and CEO at OLIO says, “We wanted to reach everyone, but particularly parents, with the message that there is something simple they can do to make a difference and protect their children’s future. We urgently need to start a discussion about waste in our homes, and show people that  while things are bad, there is hope – they can take real action right now by sharing more and wasting less.” (Creative Matters, 3rd November 2021)

Shown below: One of the out-of-home ads which ran in November and January 2021/22 across London and the TV Advertising.

Olio’s campaign is a great example for UK local councils or central government. 

Vanish Campaign

During WW2 our government generated a lot of propaganda through the media it had at its disposal to create a society who pulled together to fight against the war. They hired a graphic designer called Abram Games who made these famous posters, here is an example of what advertising can do. Could today’s war be a ‘war on waste’ campaign.

© IWM Art.IWM PST 2916

Through a combination of consumer behaviour, high-street fashion industry and government working together as a collective, highlighting the seriousness of fast fashion waste and the affects it is having on human and other living species in the world, we can improve sustainability for our future and the planets health. This is only part of the solution, let’s make this a better place, for you and for me and the entire world.


Creative Moment, Olio has created an ad to raise awareness of the colossal scale of the household waste problem, 3rd November 2021

Government Press Release, Government unveils plans for wide-ranging Waste Prevention Programme, 18 March 2021

Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd An investigation of young fashion consumers’ disposal habits

Manchester Metropolitan University, Opinion, 8th August 2022, Fast fashion: why your online returns may end up in landfill,substances%20into%20the%20surrounding%20soil

SCAP Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 Commitment

SMD Magazine, Top 10 Creative Sustainable Fashion Campaigns, November 2021

Sustain Your Style, What’s wrong with the fashion industry?

The Guardian, 15th July 2022, ‘Revenge spending’ demand for fashion defies cost of living crunch

United Alliance on Sustainable Fashion

UK Parliament, 19 February 2019, Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability

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