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Australians revealed as world’s biggest fashion consumers, fuelling waste crisis

Australians buy more clothes per person than any other country which is fuelling a fast fashion waste crisis, according to new Australia Institute research. 

The analysis shows Australia has surpassed the US as the world’s biggest consumer of textiles per capita, much of which is fast fashion that ends up in landfill.

Key findings

  • Australia has surpassed the US as the world’s biggest consumer of textiles per capita.
  • Australians buy an average of 56 new clothing items a year, more than the US (53), UK (33 items) and China (30).
  • The average value per item purchased by Australians is AUD $13, far lower than the UK ($40), USA ($24), Japan ($30) or even Brazil ($16).
  • More than 200,000 tonnes of clothing end up in landfill each year, the equivalent weight of almost four Sydney Harbour Bridges.
  • Fast fashion waste could be curbed through policies including:
    • A French-style fast fashion tax;
    • Banning the export of textile waste within five years;
    • Government-funded discounts for people who get old garments repaired;
    • Federal investment to develop an Australian circular textiles industry;
    • Greater support for community op shops and recycling initiatives.
  • Australia Institute polling research finds nearly two-thirds (63%) of people are concerned or very concerned about the environmental impact of textile waste.
    • 71% thought business should be responsible for eliminating it, followed by consumers (57%) and the government (54%).
    • Fewer than half (46%) could identify petroleum as the source of polyester, while just 27% knew that more than half of clothes sold in Australia were made from plastic.

“Australians are the world’s biggest consumer of clothes, shoes and bags per capita. We’re addicted to stuff that is harming our health and the environment,” said Nina Gbor, Circular Economy & Waste Program Director at the Australia Institute.

“We need to drastically reduce waste at the source by penalising brands mass-producing incredibly cheap and poor quality clothing that is often worn just a handful of times or never sells and goes straight to the tip.

“The Federal Government has proposed a 4 cents per garment levy under its Seamless scheme to cut clothing waste and fund domestic recycling initiatives.

“This is a good start, but the levy is too low to change brand behaviour. It should be increased drastically to at least 50 cents per item. This, coupled with measures like a fast fashion tax, is needed to put the industry on notice.

“We’re walking around in plastic clothes made from petroleum. Many of these items end up in landfill or are dumped in countries in the Global South, where they fill up their landfills, pollute beaches and oceans and contribute to more emissions.

“Shein and Temu are expected to make more than $2 billion in sales this year combined. The Federal Government could redirect some of their profits to cut clothing waste and fund a domestic recycling and a circular textiles industry.”


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