New Study Said Throwing Your Clothes Away Is More Eco-friendly ?

Writing by Wen H., Photo by Pawel Czerwinski

JANUARY 17, 2022

The new study said throwing your clothes away is more eco-friendly for the environment than renting them. Is that true?

According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017; “global clothing production has approximately doubled in the past 15 years, but the average number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36%” [1]. Meaning there are still hundreds and thousands of brand new outfits being thrown into landfills. With rising eco-friendly awareness and standards of producing lower environmental impact, ethical conscious fashion shoppers turn to ethically-made garments, second-hand shopping and garment rentals instead of buying unsustainable fashion products. For example, Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie Symonds, rented her wedding dress and other outfits for the G7 summit in Cornwall. 

Finland-based journal Environmental Research said that…

A new study raises concerns about the unseeable negative environmental consequences associated with the rental mode of shopping. Finland-based journal Environmental Research Letters recently published research analyzing fashion sustainability by comparing the global warming potential of the life cycle carbon emissions of five different ownership and end-of-life scenarios for a pair of jeans: Base, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Share.

  • Base: Buying a new pair of jeans, wearing and washing them at home, and then throwing them away. 
  • Reduce: Extended use for longevity.
  • Reuse: Reselling clothes that are no longer needed.
  • Recycle: Industrial processing into new raw materials.
  • Share: Rental service.

Image via Avantelier.  Lowe global warming potential : Reduce >Reuse > Recycle > Base > Share

In conclusion, the study concluded that the lowest global warming potential was reduced, followed by reusing. Recycling had surprisingly high emissions. Rental service actually had the highest global warming potential of the five scenarios. The causes of global warming potential by the rental model involve many aspects of its supply chains, such as dry cleaning, packaging materials, and transportation emissions. These certainly are crucial factors to include. However, some rental platforms argue for many other solutions that were not considered by the study’s authors [1].

Some rental platforms demonstrate their sustainability practices through some online articles…

Rent the Runway has released new data of a rental model that is more environmentally friendly compared to buying new clothes. The research from Green Story and SgT shows that “its rental model has displaced the production of 1.3million new garments since 2010 – leading to savings of 67million gallons of water, 98.6million kWh of energy and 44.2 million pounds of CO2 emissions over the past decade. On average, Rent the Runway estimates a 24 per cent reduction in water usage, a six per cent reduction in energy usage, and a three per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, in comparison to buying new”, as published in Vogue. UK [2]. Regarding the bad impacts caused by dry cleaning, packaging materials, and transportation emissions, HUUR and My Wardrobe HQ both adopted sustainable dry cleaning approaches and eco-friendly transportation services for their products. According to Independent UK;  “Rotaro, a UK-based fashion rental platform, aims to launch its own fleet of ‘hyper-local London electric vehicles’ by the end of this year to reduce its carbon footprint” [3].

How to make clothes rental more sustainable?

“Rental is not synonymous with sustainable.” said Maxine Bédat, a director of the New Standard Institute. Thus, in order to make clothes rental more sustainable, all rental platforms must adopt eco-friendly resources in every aspect of their services thoroughly. I believe the below items are what we can service:

  • Peer-to-peer rental, encourages local collection to reduce unnecessary shipping. 
  • Renting outfits on platforms or companies with sustainable approaches, such as eco-friendly dry cleaning, packaging materials, and green transportation. OxyWash offers an eco-friendly laundry service.
  • Renting sustainable brands.

A rental model does fill a significant gap between fast fashion and sustainable fashion practices.  

It is generally known that wearing and restyling your own clothes already in your wardrobes is the most efficient approach to fit sustainability. However, in terms of measuring employment rate and environmental ecological balance, there is no sustainable fashion business nor a rental business model that is perfect. In order to not advance the rapid destruction of the fashion support chain, a rental model does fill a significant gap between fast fashion and sustainable fashion practices. 

Example of wedding dresses.

Renting promotes the joy and appreciation of wearing the same garments others pick them up too

Based on the data, the order of adverse effects on the environment is Reduce < Reuse < Recycle < Base < Share. A comical way to look at it is that ethical conscious fashion lovers might need to get married and then get divorced many times so they could extend used wedding dress for longevity in order to make the dress as worthy as possible and to even re-wear the same wedding dress to celebrate their wedding anniversary. In this circumstance, how much pollution will be produced, if all wedding dresses are only ever worn once? I personally think rental services share the joy, appreciation and blessing of wearing the same garments others pick them up too. 

Image via Rolling In Roses

Further Reading

1. Environ. Res. Lett. Innovative recycling or extended use? Comparing the global warming potential of different ownership and end-of-life scenarios for textiles [Internet]. 2021. Available from:

2. Chan E. Is Renting Your Clothes Really More Sustainable? [Internet]. 2021. Available from:

3. Ng K. Is renting your clothes better or worse for the environment? We ask the experts [Internet]. 2021. Available from:

4. Conti S, Feitelberg R. Carrie Symonds Rents Another Dress from My Wardrobe HQ for G7 Summit [Internet]. 2021. Available from:

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