Australians buy 14.8kg of clothing, or 56 new items, every year, a new report has found, making Australia one of the highest consumers of textiles per capita in the world.
There are 1.42bn pieces of clothing – amounting to 373,000 tonnes of fabric – arriving in Australia each year, the report by the Australian Fashion Council (AFC) has revealed.
The report, funded by the Australian government, said the annual cost to consumers was $9.2bn, meaning Australians were paying on average just $6.50 for each item of clothing.
The AFC has used the findings to call for a levy on clothing imports to reduce textile waste.
The volume of clothing imports dwarfs local production, which sits at 38m units of clothing a year – or 3% of the import market.
At the other end of the fashion cycle, roughly 260,000 tonnes, or 10kg a person, reaches landfill each year, the lead author of the report, Peter Allan, said.
“And in addition, all that we export, which is around four kilos per person, eventually reaches the same end of life,” he said.
The report was launched by the AFC at the second town hall for the National Clothing Product Stewardship Scheme – which is tasked with halving national textile waste by 2030.
Speaking at the meeting on Wednesday, the AFC chief executive, Leila Naja Hibri, said the fashion industry added $27b to the Australian economy each year and had a “deserved” reputation for its negative impact on the environment.
“There needs to be a change in the way we design, produce, use and dispose of products,” she said.
On top of the huge amount of landfill, the textile industry also relies heavily on fossil fuels and other chemicals.
Globally, 98m tonnes of nonrenewable resources are used in the fashion industry, including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilisers to grow cotton, and chemicals to produce dye.
In Australia, two-thirds of clothing is made up of synthetic fibres, which are often derived from petroleum.
The report will guide the product stewardship scheme, which will then recommend a levy on all clothing imports, the chief executive of Charitable Recycling Australia, Omer Soker, said.
It is unclear how much the suggested levy will be, but it will be structured by unit weight, value and the size of the clothing brand importing the product.
“The scheme when its co-designed will raise a small levy on every item of new clothing put on to the market,” Soker said.
“Which collectively will raise the many millions of dollars required for the interventions across the waste hierarchy.”
The fashion industry is one of the biggest emitters in the world, and Soker said the task of curbing waste in Australia would be hard.
“Clothing is probably one of the most complicated areas to tackle,” he said. “This is not a product stewardship scheme for golfballs and Chuppa Chups”
The head of Wrap Asia Pacific, Claire Kneller, said a scheme requiring a legislative framework would be slow-going, but that “we’re not pulling things out of the air when we say that maybe a co-regulatory scheme is the way to go”.
Only 7,000 tonnes of textiles are recycled in Australia – an amount Kneller described bluntly at the round table as “pretty much none”.
On top of a levy, more consumers need to be encouraged to donate their old clothes to charities, Soker said.
“Australia’s reuse charities are already the biggest network diverting clothing from landfill and currently extend the life of $527m worth of preloved clothes,” he said.
“With data and evidence-informed reuse interventions, the [scheme] can further encourage consumers to donate and reuse clothing, and provide automated sorting and disassembly infrastructure needed to scale domestic onshore solutions, with better tracking and accreditation for clothing reuse overseas.”