Saving the Planet One Christmas Jumper at a Time

02/12/2015 17:29 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 10:12 GMT

There's no doubt about it, the popularity of Christmas jumpers has grown massively in recent years. The once dreaded annual knit from our grandparents has become the festive season's must have fashion accessory - and it seems the more off the wall they are, the better! There's even a whole day dedicated to them (Friday 18 December).

New research from Love Your Clothes estimates that over a third of the UK already own a Christmas jumper and another quarter are likely to buy a new one this year - this is big business - as a nation we'll be spending in excess of £300 million on them!

Of course, Christmas is the time of year when we allow ourselves to indulge - and why not, we want to buy into the festivities, but that doesn't have to be at the expense of our pocket, or our planet.

When we buy a new jumper, Christmassy or not, I suspect the last thing most of us consider will be the environmental impact, more likely the size, colour, cost etc. But if we think about what actually goes into producing a jumper - the raw materials, the design, the manufacturing, transportation and sale - all of these processes need resources, which means, at every stage the jumpers will have an impact on our environment. We've estimated that the Christmas jumpers owned and bought this year will have an impact on the environment equivalent to more than half a million bath tubs of water and enough carbon dioxide to fill 179 party balloons for every person in the UK!

And that's only the festive jumper - there's also the rest of our wardrobes, and it's not just the environment that they have an impact on, but our wallets too. WRAP's ground breaking research - Valuing Our Clothes - highlighted that UK consumers are stashing £30 billion pounds worth of unworn clothes in those wardrobes!

We discovered that more than 1.1million tonnes of clothes are bought and disposed of each year, and around a third of that is ending up in landfill. That's 350,000 tonnes of clothing destined for landfill - but if diverted for re-use or recycling, it could generate potential business income worth around £100 million.

The clothing industry has the fifth-biggest environmental footprint of any UK industry, but by taking a few simple measures we can make a difference. For example, keeping clothes in use for longer offers the single biggest opportunity to reduce the environmental impacts. And there are many ways we can do this through repairing and upcycling existing clothes. But if they are no longer needed we can pass them on to others: selling on sites like Ebay and Gumtree; through Freecycle and charities like Clothes Aid, Cancer Research and Oxfam; or at 'swishing parties' and through initiatives like M&S's 'shwopping'.

If we can extend the life of clothes, even by just three months, we could reduce their carbon, water and waste footprints by 5-10%.

And even when items are no longer wearable or repairable, there are still commercial opportunities; textiles can find new life in a range of industries from mining to motor manufacture! So don't bin your old worn out clothes - even your socks, if you can't fix it, recycle it so it can be used again replacing the need for new materials.

We all have a role to play when it comes to making clothes more sustainable and at WRAP we are working with businesses and consumers to facilitate much of the change required.

The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan - or SCAP - is the business side of things, encouraging retailers, brands, charities and recyclers to come together to tackle the impacts. Just last month (November) we reported on the progress made to date, with some positive indications of the clothing sector's collaborative efforts to reduce water and carbon.

And to help the consumer, WRAP runs the Love Your Clothes campaign - which promotes greater reuse and recycling and encourages people to give their clothes a new lease of life, with lots of helpful advice that can help save you money too.

So when it comes to Christmas jumpers - an item that's only likely to be worn once or twice - what about buying a pre-loved one from a charity shop, swap or share last year's or even have a go at upcycling an old jumper into a fun new festive one? You could always donate the money saved doing so to your favourite cause, so you are still doing your bit for charity as well as the environment! Love Your Clothes has loads of ideas, hints and tips to help, and this year it's running The 12 Jumpers of Christmas competition for the best upcycled Christmas jumper, so why not give it a go?

We only have one planet to provide all the resources we need and our demands on those resources are already high. Let's make sure the future generations still get to enjoy the fun and festivities of The Christmas Jumper!