Textile Recycling And Re-Use

This page contains the contents of the IPPTS Associates June 2012 update on the Recycling and Re-Use of Textiles. If you prefer to read this as a document, we suggest that you download the pdf document of the same thing by clicking on the image below.

IPPTS Associates Textiles Market June 2012
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In Kenya, which is one of the UK's largest export markets for used clothing, the Federal Government has in effect increased the import duty, hitting the prices paid by Kenyan buyers. It is reported that as a result a number of used textiles importers are in danger of going out of business, in Kenya.The value of used clothes proceeds on a rising trend and the amount some buyers seem quite often to be willing to pay can be surprising. On the other hand mature companies that have actually been trading for generations in the used textiles business are stating that they are experiencing great difficulty in making clothing collections pay. Some companies have even ended their clothing collections in recent weeks, because of the present difficult trading conditions.

Add to this a background the fact that there are also reported falls in imports by the Asian used textiles dealers, and you will have a pretty good picture of the current less than perfect state of the UK used clothing market.

One would certainly have thought that the climb in the value of pre-used clothing in the UK might be good for UK charities. After all, they can easily offer their clothing, which they do not retail in their shops, to textile collectors at a much higher price than previously, but the picture is not that simple.

Some charity shops are reporting falling sales income due to charity shop buyer price resistance and hint at increased competition from new money-for-clothes stores of a similar kind and from door-to-door collections. Those charities without stores are additionally said to be suffering.

Door-to-door collections operators however are also seeing the size of their charitable donations fall as more collectors are now taking to the streets to profit from what is seen by the trade as the high value of garments. Many of these collectors are charitable, and some are commercial, however others are merely criminal. The criminal collectors get goods by deception by pretending to collect for a charity, which they don't actually pay any money to, or they drive out ahead of the genuine collector vans, and take the apparel put out by the public by the authorized collectors.

A further development which is tending to reduce charitable income from used clothing collection is that Councils in Cumbria, Northumberland, Hertfordshire and South East Wales which are hard pressed to find ways to reduce Council spending, are awarding special fabric bank collection contracts to their own household waste collection operators. the effect of that is that the income created goes straight to the local authority itself. A London wide local authority collection also looks likely to be instigated soon which will in future grab a much bigger slice of the textile recyclingmarket throughout the UK capital.

The current value of this second-hand commodity means that these collections will certainly create substantial income that is then readily be made use of to assist off-set the expense of collecting less lucrative waste streams and decrease the worry on the regional taxpayer.

Additionally, locally authorities will be increasingly be under pressure to collect even more textiles. Greater than lm tonnes annually is still going into mixed refuse each year and straight to landfill. In the Waste Review last year, the UK coalition government revealed that it would consider (during this Parliament) whether constraints or a total ban on fabrics going to land fill ought to be implemented.

It is worth noting here that for sustainability, textiles recycling provides the greatest environmental benefit score when resource displacement is considered. Indeed, the Scottish Government's Carbon Metric Reporting System provides making it a very high priority waste stream for re-use or recycling.

To aid local authorities in steering their way between complying with sustainable waste management, and minimizing cost to the ratepayer, the UK government funded organisation WRAP will shortly be publishing a Textiles Collections Guidance report. This is eagerly awaited by the industry.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided “as is”. The author, publishers and marketers of this information disclaim any loss or liability, either directly or indirectly as a consequence of applying the information presented herein, or in regard to the use and application of said information. No guarantee is given, either expressed or implied, in regard to the merchantability, accuracy, or acceptability of the information.

Textile Recycling and Re-Use Regulations

The UK has its own domestic legislation giving effect to the revised EU Waste Framework (WFD) as implemented in December 2010. Among the main new features the WFD requires member states to:

  • apply the waste hierarchy in waste prevention and management legislation
  • achieve a target of preparing for re-use and recycling at least 50 percent of waste from households by 2020.

Preparing for re-use is therefore high on the political agenda. DEFRA has commissioned a series of industry informed evidence projects in key areas, including Maximising Re-use and Recycling of UK Clothing and Textiles.

Facts And Figures

  • It is estimated that the UK spends £46bn per year on clothes and accessories
  • In Britain, 500 000 tonnes of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill each yea
  • Over one million tonnes of textiles are discarded annually of which 25 percent are recycled.

This breaks down in the following ways:

  • second hand clothes and shoes
  • 70 percent fibre reclamation
  • eight percent filling materials
  • nine percent industrial wiping cloths
  • seven percent waste (bags, zips etc) six percent.

Although the majority of textile waste originates from household sources waste textiles also arise during yarn and fabric manufacture, garment-making processes and from the retail industry. These are termed post-industrial waste, as opposed to the post-consumer waste that goes to jumble sales and charity shops.

Together they provide a vast potential for recovery and recycling.

Environmental & Economic Benefits


  • reduces waste to landfill. Textiles present particular problems in landfill as synthetic fabrics will not decompose, while woollen garments decompose and produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas
  • reduces pressure on virgin resources
  • saves energy and aids the balance of payments as we import fewer virgin materials.

Reclaiming fibre avoids many of the polluting and energy intensive processes needed to make textiles from virgin materials, including savings on energy consumption when processing, as items do not need to be re-dyed or scoured; savings in water use – unlike raw wool, reclaimed fibre does not need to be thoroughly washed using large volumes of water; reduction of demand for dyes and fixing agents and the pollution and other issues resulting from their use and manufacture.

Key Organisations

THE TEXTILE Recycling Association is a trade association to promote textiles recycling. The Recyclatex Bonded Scheme has been set up to help local authorities, charities and other organizations that want to set up services for the recycling and re-use of clothes and shoes.

TEXTILE RECYCLING for Aid and International Development (TRAID) sells donated clothes, either as they are or re-modelled, through their shops and online.

SALVATION ARMY Trading Company Ltd is a trading arm of The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The company was established to create jobs, to benefit the environment and – through profitable trading – help fund The Salvation Army's social work in the United Kingdom.

The Sustainable Clothing Roadmap

AS PART of Defra's work on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), it is developing 10 product roadmaps to reduce the environmental and social impacts across the life cycle of a range of priority products. Clothing is one of these products. Evidence shows that clothing and textiles is a high impact product category, exacerbated by the high volumes of clothes consumed in the UK. Within the ELJ-25, clothing and textiles account for approximately 5-10 percent of our environmental impacts. Without intervention and with growing consumption these impacts are likely to increase.

Textile production uses vast amounts of resources and also produces large quantities of waste:

  • hazardous waste and effluents associated with production
  • energy use and greenhouse gas (GHC) emissions from washing (water heating) and drying of clothing
  • processing of fossil fuels into synthetic fibres
  • fertiliser generation and irrigation systems for conventional cotton growing
  • 3.1m tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted from the UK clothing and textile sector as a whole in 2006.

The clothing roadmap currently focuses on garments and includes textiles used in the manufacture of clothing, but excludes shoes, accessories and commercial textiles.

As part of the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap industry initiative, the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan5 has been published, setting out agreed stakeholder actions from over 30 clothing and fashion stakeholder organisations to improve the sustainability performance of clothing.

Relevant Legislation

REVISED WASTE Shipment Regulations: In 2003, 1 74000 tonnes of textiles were exported for re-sale as clothing abroad. In July 2007, a more universal list of waste codes was introduced, simplifying the procedures for notifiable and non-notifiable waste. Shipments of waste to, from and through the UK are subject to a range of legal controls depending upon the nature of the waste being moved, whether the waste is moving for recovery or disposal and where in the world the waste is moving from, to and through.

Certain shipments of waste from and to the UK are absolutely prohibited, for example exports of any type of waste for disposal. Others waste movements may only take place legally if strict written pre-notification procedures are followed – many types of waste arising from industrial processes and going for recovery fall within this category where the waste concerned is considered hazardous. Some wastes considered non-hazardous within the UK can also be subject to these types of control. Advice on the controls that apply should be sought from the appropriate UK competent authority.

DUTY OF Care: Environmental Protection Act (1990) s34. If any organisation (eg, charity, local authority or business), passes its second hand clothing waste to a textile recycling merchant, they must ensure that the merchant has the legal authority to take the waste. Failure to comply with the Duty of Care may result in a conviction where the penalty could be an unlimited fine.

References and Useful Sources Of Information

1 TRAID www.traid.org.uk/


3 Textiles Environment Design (TED) Research, www.tedresearch.net

4 Waste on Line: Textile Recycling Information Sheet, www.wasteonline.org.uk/resources/lnformationSheets/Textiles.htm [Sorry – link no longer available.]

5 The Salvation Army, www.satradingco.org

6 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Product Roadmaps – Clothing www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/products/roadmaps/clothing/documents/clothing-action-plan-feb10.pdf [Sorry. link no longer available.]


Based upon the CIWM Fact File October 2010

Now we think you'd enjoy reading our page on How To Properly Recycle.

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