What exactly lies in the average Dutch closet? How often do the Dutch buy new items – and do they actually wear them? Or do new jackets and jeans just lie around in the bottom of their closets, gathering dust? The survey Measuring the Dutch Clothing Mountain; carried out by Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), explored these questions (and more) and found that a Dutch closet typically contains 173 items of clothing, of which at least 50 have not been worn at all in the past year. Because unnecessary purchases only worsen the impact of our shopping habits on the environment, the study also provides recommendations and best practices on how best to reduce and avoid these unnecessary purchases altogether.
Little information is currently available on what ‘The Clothing Mountain’ in the Netherlands looks like.
Figures from the GfK market research institute reveal that on average, the Dutch buy 46 new items of clothing, shoes, and accessories every year. The Dutch also throw out 40 items a year, according to figures from CSR Netherlands, Statistics Netherlands, and the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management. However, little information is available as to why they throw away the clothes they do; how they dispose of them; how early after purchase a piece of clothing will find its way to the incinerator; and in what condition (i.e. do the Dutch throw away clothes before the end of their useful life, or are their clothes so worn out that they can’t help but throw them away?)
Field research creates new data and insights
This lack of information led Saxion, CSR Netherlands, Sympany, Circle Economy, and Modint, to join AUAS, to undertake an initial exploration of the ‘Dutch Clothing Mountain’. The researchers interviewed various textile waste collectors and sorters and analysed 200 kilos of clothing waste by type (man, woman, child, or unisex), colour, material composition, and condition (rewearable or non-rewearable). The researchers also carried out a closer inspection of the closets of fifty individuals. Though not representative of the entire Dutch population, the results nevertheless painted a revealing picture of the ‘average’ Dutch closet.
Underutilised and underappreciated
Of the 173 items in the average Dutch closet, roughly 50 items have not been worn in the past year. Of the forty items of clothing thrown away by each person every year, only nine are suitable for re-use. The rest either no longer fulfils the quality requirements necessary to be resold on the market or are not separately collected, and end up with the domestic waste.
So where do we go from here? According to the researchers, we can significantly improve our relationship with the environment by reducing the volume of clothing we accumulate behind closed doors, and the study presents a number of low-threshold and effective recommendations to get there:
- Increase awareness: both consumers and the fashion industry must understand that fewer items of clothing contributes to a better environment.
- Encourage visualisation: Have consumers visualise their closets more often: what do I already own and what do I no longer need to buy?
- Take a fresh perspective: Take a new look at your clothing. What kind of new combinations can you create with the items you already own?
- Promote second-hand: Shopkeepers can add second-hand clothing to their offerings. By promoting second-hand purchases, items can be given a second life and will less frequently end up adding to the clothing mountain.
“We hope that the research will have a positive impact on the clothing mountain in the Netherlands”, says researcher Irene Maldini from AUAS’ Fashion, Research and Technology research group. Maldini is further studying the possibilities of reducing the Dutch clothing mountain for her doctoral research and considers these recommendations to be a great first step to effectively combat pollution of the environment.