Image: H&M

Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics – such a straws, coffee lids, and water bottles, which are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled – have been a topic of increased discussion amongst national and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations – and individuals – devoted to addressing and ideally, chipping away at the tons of pollution that finds it way into oceans across the globe each year. One category of products that is routinely left out of the larger single-use conversation? Fashion. It turns out, the industry has a single-use problem of its own of increasingly significant proportions.

As London-based survey consultancy Censuswide revealed this week in a study it produced with British charity Barnardo’s, the single-use fashion market – one that sees consumers scooping up outfits that they wear once before ultimately discarding them – is worth billions of dollars, and it is growing. Looking specifically at consumer spending in the United Kingdom by way of a 2,000 person survey, Censuswide and Barnardo’s found that single-use outfits for music festivals, such as Glastonbury and Coachella, alone, account for approximately $307 million worth of items per year or about 7.5 million outfits worn only once.  

In addition to that $307 million, the survey found that an additional $868 million will be spent on single-use vacation clothing – whether it be a $27 sundress from Fashion Nova, a $30 beach “kimono” from Missguided, or a $15 straw tote bag from Zara. The surge in one-time-wear vacation apparel coincides with a burgeoning resortwear category, where an uptick in sales, including full-price sales, are being led by pressures to keep up appearances, including by way of social media-centric documentation of holidays and the wardrobes that come with them.

Still yet, the prevalence of single-use clothing can be seen in special occasion attire. According to the Independent, Censuswide found that as a whole, “one in four of those surveyed would feel embarrassed wearing an outfit to a special occasion more than once.” This was particularly true for “younger consumers,” 37 percent of which said they will not repeat an outfit for a special event, such as a wedding, for which British consumers as a whole spend a whopping $993 million per year, or an average of less than $100 per outfit.

As for this summer, alone, Censuswide predicts that British consumers will spend more than $3.35 billion on one-and-done fashion.