You Won’t Believe How Much Clothing the U.S. Throws Away in a Year

The documentary ‘The True Cost’ puts real numbers on our consumption and our waste.
May 29, 2015·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

It stands to reason that if, collectively, we’re buying more than 80 billion new items of clothing each year, we’re tossing nearly as much to make room for them.

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The True Cost, a fashion documentary focused on answering the question of who really pays the price for our clothing, uncovers the idea that, as consumers, we may be our own worst enemy.

According to the film, we purchase 400 percent more clothing today than we did 20 years ago, largely because of the dropping cost of fashion. But there are consequences to this consumption, and they’re unraveling in different ways across the globe.

“I think after any big change in any industry it takes a while to feel and smell the dirt that comes out of something that is polluting,” says Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Redress, an organization focused on promoting environmental sustainability in fashion. “I think now there is a change because you can’t deny that the fast fashion industry is having a massive impact on developing countries.”

The True Cost clip above points out that the average American tosses 82 pounds of textile waste each year, which adds up to 11 million tons of the stuff from our country alone. For the most part, these textiles aren’t biodegradable, which means they sit in landfills for at least 200 years. As a result, they release harmful gases into the air.

RELATED: More Coverage on the True Cost of our Clothes

“You just have to look at landfill, and you can see in landfill that the amount of clothes and textiles being chucked away has been increasing steadily over the last 10 years as this sort of dirty shadow of the fast fashion industry,” Dean says.

Lucy Siegle, an executive producer of The True Cost, makes a valid point—despite knowing as a society that we are depleting many of our natural resources and need to put our best foot forward in terms of bettering our environment, as consumers we continue to wholeheartedly support fast fashion.

“As we get sort of closer and closer to species degradation, to trashing our last remaining pristine wilderness, we seem hell-bent on producing more and more disposable stuff,” she says. “It makes no sense. Fashion should never, and can never, be thought of as a disposable product.”

The True Cost will be available internationally on May 29, download it here.