Resource minister urges greater reclaim for textiles

Used clothing is an increasingly valuable commodity, but this message needs to be drilled home to businesses and consumers, resource minister Lord de Mauley warned today.

Talking to edie Mauley said: “Perhaps in these increasingly hard times people will begin to realise that there is value for them in what they had perhaps previously regarded as waste. At the same time of course its good for the environment that we are not sending it to landfill.”

He added: “The message is that £4bn of goods are exported as reusable and recyclable materials each year so this is a big market.

“It employs 30,000 people and yet, specifically in the area of clothing, 350,000 tonnes a year still goes to landfill so we’ve still got a lot to do to help people understand that there is value in this.

“There’s value in it for local authorities, for charities, for businesses and for individuals,” said Mauley explaining that the reuse and recycling of clothes was a “win-win” for both the economy and the environment.

His comments came during a site visit to Lawrence M Barry (LMB) Clothes Recycling Centre in East London. The family-grown business has grown in 25 years into a company with a £4m annual turnover, employing over 170 staff with export partners worldwide.

On an average LMB collects 170 to 200 tonnes of textiles, clothing and shoes a week. 80% is sorted and exported for reuse, 10% is cut into wiping cloths and 5% is sent for flocking and felting. Just 5%, made up of household rubbish, hangers and single shoes, ends up as waste.

The reusable clothes are collected from LMB’s 1000 recycling banks and a number of charities around London. They are then sorted and packed into 45kg bundles, compressed and shipped abroad.

Many of the garments are sent to African destinations and end up on market stalls in countries such as Uganda, Zambia and Cameroon. 

LMB director Ross Barry explained that his company could expand to double its capacity and that retailers were only just starting to appreciate the value of their own goods. 

“With Defra’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan, [major retailers]are beginning to learn a little bit more about how the industry works and I think they are beginning to see how there might be a value in working with someone like us and assessing how long things stay in people’s wardrobes,” he said. 

The signs that the clothing industry is getting on board with reuse and recycling are promising for Barry. 

“I’m surprised at how open the major retailers are with each other – they are quite honest that they are at the beginning of this and they know as an industry they have got to work together.”

“They all seem very committed to it, they know the public are interested and it has got to be a part of their overall strategy moving forward,” he said.

Barry believes that the UK is a leading the way in textiles reuse, but said that responsibility for a sustainable industry lay with clothes manufacturers and retailers.

“I would like to see manufacturers increasingly designing longer life into their clothes. Retailers and manufacturers can help get the message to customers as to how to extend the useful life of your clothing.”

Conor McGlone

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