Christmas jumpers – the louder, the brighter, the better – have become a new festive tradition, with supermarkets and clothes retailers stacking their shelves high in the run up to the holidays.

The fad has taken off with a vengeance in the United Kingdom, with offices, schools and even dogs taking part. Other countries have their own versions, such as Ugly Christmas Sweater Day in the US and Canada.

The idea is to give a donation to charity in exchange for wearing a festive, sparkly, flashing or even jingling jumper.

But now one charity has researched the environmental cost of Christmas jumpers – which are often worn only once – urging people to make their own or buy one second-hand rather than new.

The louder, the brighter, the better
Image: Save the Children

No-one can argue with the good intentions, nor the valuable money raised. This year's total raised for the global children's charity Save the Children already stands at £252,630 ($338,486), and will be used to keep children warm, provide hot meals as well as meeting basic healthcare needs.

Many people are also buying Christmas jumpers for a party or just for fun, and that, says the environmental charity Hubbub, is hugely wasteful and costly to the planet.

Throwaway culture

According to Hubbub’s research, one in four Christmas jumpers bought last year will be binned or never used again. In 2017, an estimated £220m ($295m) is expected to be spent on Christmas jumpers, largely due to the fact that 24% of the 3000 people surveyed said they didn’t want to be seen in the same jumper as previous years.

And the survey also reveals a worrying attitude towards clothes: 29% of people said that Christmas jumpers are so cheap they might as well get a new one every year.

That sort of attitude has coined a term of its own – “disposable fashion”. And it is this throwaway culture that is so damaging to the planet, both in terms of resources and the air miles needed to ship the clothes from factories to shops.

A recent report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation claimed that the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second. The report goes on to say that an estimated $500bn is lost every year due to clothing that is barely worn and rarely recycled.

The graph below shows the rise in clothing sales and the decline in the use of those clothes.

Image: Ellen MacArthur Foundation/Circular Fibres Initiative

Hubbub and Save the Children are urging people not to buy new jumpers, saying homemade ones are often best (they suggest borrowing, knitting or decorating an existing jumper). Heading to a charity shop is another good option.

Next year, let’s hope that Christmas Jumper Day raises even more money for charity. But that more people will chose to make, decorate, borrow or reuse that jumper, rather than buying a new one.