Australians contribute more clothing waste than the US

A National Waste Report showed Australians' donated clothes contributed to 73% of exported clothing waste in 2019/20.
Australians contribute clothing waste

Australians contribute more clothing waste than the US, becoming the biggest fashion consumer in the world, according to a report by independent think tank the Australia Institute.

The report referred to research by the Australian Fashion Council showing more than 300,000 tonnes of clothing is wasted every year.

Researchers called for government action including a fast fashion tax and garment repair subsidies to extend the life of clothing items.

Here’s what you need to know.


56 items
The average number of new clothing items an Australian purchases a year. That’s compared to 53 in the U.S, 33 in the UK, and 30 in China.

The average price Australians pay per garment. The average in the U.S. is $24, $40 in the UK, and $16 in Brazil (Australian dollars)

227,000 tonnes
The amount of clothing that ends up in landfill yearly in Australia.

106,000 tonnes
The amount of clothing waste that is exported from Australia every year.


The most common method Australians use to dispose of unwanted clothes is donations.

However, the Department of Climate Change’s National Waste Report showed Australians’ donated clothes contributed to 73% of exported clothing waste in 2019/20.

The Australian Institute surveyed over 1,000 Australians about their fashion consumption and waste habits. Around 65% said they donate unwanted clothes, 11% sell or give away clothes, while around 5% said they repaired or recycled unwanted garments.


The report called for a fast fashion tax, similar to French legislation introduced earlier this year.

France’s proposal would require fast fashion retailers to pay up to €10 ($AU17) tax for every product sold by 2030. It also included a ban on fast fashion advertising.

The report called for more transparency from manufacturers about how textiles are produced. It also suggested new labelling standards, which would include details to show if a garment was made with recycled materials.


The Australia Institute also called on the Government to subsidise garment repairs. It suggested this as an incentive for consumers to repair their unwanted clothes, and to reduce textile waste.

The report’s recommendations focus on building a circular fashion economy — reusing and recycling existing materials to limit the need for new ones.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek introduced the voluntary ‘Seamless’ scheme last year, to make the Australian fashion industry “circular” by 2030. Big W and Cotton On are among the brands that have signed on so far.


Brands that opt in to Seamless pay a 4-cent levy on each garment sold. The funds go towards supporting textile recycling processes.

Australia Institute Director Nina Gbor said the levy is “too low to change brand behaviour.” Gbor wants it to be increased ”to at least 50 cents”.

Plibersek told TDA that “the Government will regulate” the fashion industry if more funds are needed to cover the costs of a circular economy.

However, the Government is yet to outline specific details.


Plibersek said the fashion industry produces “more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined.”

Shadow Environment Minister Jonathon Duniam told TDA: “Heavy-handed bans shouldn’t be the default answer for everything.”

He said while “attitudes to fast fashion should change”, many Aussies buy “cheap clothing because that is all they can afford.”

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