Greater collaboration will hike up value of textile recycling

Closer partnerships between textile recyclers, local authorities and waste management companies are needed if greater volumes of household textiles are to be diverted from landfill.

This was the central message that came out of the UK’s first dedicated textile recycling seminar held in Manchester recently, which explored new ways in which to generate income from used clothing through reuse and recovery.

Latest figures show that 350,000 tonnes of clothing end up in UK landfill each year while a further 70,000 tonnes are sent for incineration.

Delegates were urged to consider applying the waste hierarchy and shorten the supply chain from residents to recyclers to extract maximum value from this material stream. This would require greater levels of collaboration, however, according to Axion Recycling director Roger Morton.

“With around 60kg of textile waste being generated per UK household every year, local authorities need to develop the most efficient solutions that ultimately benefit all. There’s an ‘urban mine’ out there that will generate income that can be ploughed back into local communities,” he said.

Echoing this sentiment, Textile Recycling Association national liaison manager Alan Wheeler said that strategies were already in place to encourage councils to start textile collections and tackle the readily-available supply of clothing.

“We have to strike a balance with charity shop collections, but it’s important to note that donations to charity shops have increased alongside the growth in kerbside collections,” he told delegates.

During 2011 60% of used clothing collected was reused, but WRAP-funded trials have shown that 81-89% of textiles are reusable with little variation between different collection routes, such as textile banks, door-to-door and kerbside collections.

Elliot Cohen, managing director of i + g cohen, said that councils were missing out on valuable revenue by not maximising the potential for reuse.
“Given that two-fifths of the world’s population will never be able to afford to buy good quality clothing, these end markets offer tremendous opportunities,” he argued.

One council consortium that is exploiting this is Suffolk Waste Partnership (SWP), a joint venture comprising seven district councils and the county council.

SWP has introduced a cost-neutral county-wide kerbside scheme to try and recover some of the 7,000 tonnes of textiles which end up Suffolk landfill sites every year.

Since its introduction in July, the scheme has already collected 350 tonnes with no evidence of any adverse effect on the county’s existing methods of textiles collections, such as bring sites and charities.

SWP support manager Rob Cole said its success has been down to good communications with residents.

“By making it easy for residents to recycle their unwanted textiles, we aim to capture more material from the residual waste bins and reduce the cost and volume of sending them to landfill,” he said.

The event was co-hosted by Axion Recycling and i + g cohen.

Maxine Perella

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