Collection Key to Unlocking Potential
is director of UK based textile recycler
I & G Cohen and chair of trading group Recyclatex
An estimated 350,000 tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Diverting these materials, which have recognised commercial value, from landfill remains a challenge for the recycling and waste management sectors.
In the UK alone, recent research from WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) showed that recovering just 10% of the 1.4 million tonnes of textiles that are sent to landfill each year could unlock up to £24 million and deliver huge environmental benefits.
One solution lies in how they are collected. More than four out of five textile items donated via established routes such as door to door, kerbside, textile bank and charity shop collections can be successfully reused or recycled. Working with Axion Consulting, I & G Cohen has conducted eight studies into textile recycling on behalf of WRAP which showed reuse and recycling rates of 80% to 89% using these popular public routes.
This project, ‘Impact of Textile Feedstock Source on Value’, assessed the impact that differing sources of recovered textiles has on the quality and subsequent value of those textiles within the UK reuse and recycling markets. Unsurprisingly, comingled collections were least successful due to heavy contamination and damage from the sorting process causing high levels of wastage.
By forging stronger partnerships with textile recyclers, local authorities and waste management companies can realise more value from their discarded textiles, prevent them being landfilled and help to support thousands of jobs. In November, our ‘What a Waste’ event explored innovative ways of diverting used clothing and textiles from landfill.
What people don’t always realise is that nearly everything they discard has some kind of value as long as it’s clean, dry and free from contamination. Each tonne of clothing, handbags and shoes gets sorted and graded for customers across the world. Lightweight clothing is sent to East and West Africa, some heavier weight clothing and lower grades end up in Pakistan and India, while smaller amounts of high value items will go to Eastern Europe. Vintage clothing – albeit around 1% of the total collected – also provides employment in repairing and selling sought-after garments.
Other low-grade items can be recycled into insulation products in vehicles or wiping cloths for cleaning purposes. We should all make more of our old textiles – for the sake of the environment and the world’s population.