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U.K. Report Finds 43% of Used Clothing Was Dumped During Lockdown

Samantha Conti

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LONDON — A clothing and accessories monster has been growing inside British homes, with consumers using their time in lockdown to clear their closets, and set aside unwanted items for the charity shops or, alternatively, for the garbage can.

According to a study set to be released Wednesday by the U.K. charity WRAP, a total of 67 million clothing items — mostly T-shirts, blouses, sweaters and hoodies — and as many as 22 million pairs of shoes could be discarded by U.K. homes as lockdown eases.

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A total of 184 million textile items have been earmarked for disposal, WRAP said, with people on average discarding 11 items of clothing during lockdown.

Most will go to charity shops, which have slowly begun to reopen with social distancing measures in place. Other items have already been — or will be — headed straight to the landfill.

WRAP, a not-for-profit organization that works with governments, businesses and individuals to promote sustainability, undertook its research in late May, surveying 2,422 U.K. adults aged 18 and over.

The report, titled “Clothing Behaviors During COVID-19 Lockdown,” prepared by Sarah Gray, said the survey sample reflects “the known profile of the U.K. population,” according to age, gender, region, work status and social economic status.

 

WRAP found that 41 percent of U.K. citizens discarded textiles during the COVID-19 lockdown, mostly clothing, shoes, footwear, bedding, bags, accessories and household textiles. Some 57 percent of the items earmarked for disposal had been set aside at home until the end of lockdown. The remaining 43 percent of items had already been tossed away.

The survey said 36 percent of people used the “general rubbish,” or household garbage, to get rid of one or more of their items.

Of the people who had set items aside, 49 percent said they intended to donate one or more items to a charity shop or a charity bag collection. Some 14 percent of that group said they planned to throw the unwanted items in the trash.

Nonessential stores began reopening in England on June 15, and not all charity shops are up and running yet. Many of them rely on volunteers and are still organizing new hygiene and social distancing protocols.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled a further easing of measures: As of July 4, hairdressers, barbers, pubs, restaurants and hotels can begin to reopen, while the country’s unpopular 2 meter (6.6 feet) distancing rule will shrink down to one meter (3.3 feet).

Nail bars, gyms and swimming pools remain closed, while the government has also set a two-week quarantine for all people arriving in the U.K.

WRAP said its research — which also took in Britons’ attitudes toward clothes, shopping and recycling — found a positive trend towards greater environmental awareness.

The report said “People are wanting to reduce waste and are really trying to do the right thing. That has continued despite the COVID-19 crisis. We found that 50 percent of U.K. citizens are willing to go out of their way to avoid generating clothing waste. This group of U.K. citizens has grown in size, up from 31 percent in 2017.”

WRAP added that it plans to share its findings with signatories to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan 2020 Commitment to help support messaging by retailers and brands encouraging people to donate textiles through in-store collections, an often-underused route for recycling clothing.