BIU Group commercial manager Wendy Yarney explains how the company has overcome the many issues facing the textile recycling sector to service its successful charitable and commercial partnerships
With prices increasing over a number of years and more textile recyclers and charities wanting their share of the market, BIU Group - previously known as Bag It Up - and similar organisations have encountered many challenges.
Quality has become an issue throughout the industry. Whereas at one time you could expect to find a high volume of ‘cream’ amongst discarded clothing, the number of higher quality or designer garments are declining, with more budget clothing finding its way into charity shops and textile banks across the UK.
The ‘Primark effect’, as named by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, is now a commonly used term to describe the high street’s cheaper clothing, with new, but lower quality garments bought and disposed of more frequently. This occurs as a result of budget retailers manufacturing low-cost garments and items that consumers fully expect to discard within six to 12 months.
Retailers themselves have also created their own take-back schemes, such as the Oxfam and M&S ‘Shwopping’ partnership, where customers can donate unwanted M&S branded clothing at stores nationwide, in return for a discount off their next purchase.
More recently, Cash 4 Clothes and similar operations have cropped up across the UK, where anyone can cash in on their higher value used clothing. However, recent news suggests these organisations have gained the interest of HM Revenue & Customs because of inconsistencies and possible fraudulent activities. There is also evidence such operations are ceasing because of their unsustainable business model.
But taking all this into account, BIU’s customers have reported that the quality of stock has remained higher than average. This can also be attributed to the security employed at BIU textile recycling banks, which in turn has led to a sustainable and measured price increase.
As the value of used textiles has increased year on year, so has the number of thefts. BIU addressed this by developing and rolling out the UK’s first electronic, no-key textile bank with a new chute and locking system, making them extremely secure and near impossible to break into. Since the first electronic banks were trialled in 2009, all 1,100 banks have now been upgraded. This has resulted in an estimated 20% increase in yields in areas where old banks were being targeted. Since upgrading, theft has been virtually eliminated, so BIU is able to guarantee tonnages to customers throughout the year, who in turn can offer a stable price all year. With the theft issues resolved, BIU is now actively working to divert more stock to textile banks, as these are considered to be the securest, easiest and safest way for members of the public to recycle unwanted textiles.
We have also faced competition from kerbside collectors, even though these schemes are susceptible to bogus collectors. With many kerbside collection bags stating a collection day, bogus teams are sometimes first on scene, scooping up all of the donations before the real charity collector arrives to get what was left out for them in good faith. Another example is a company that posed as an air ambulance recycling service, distributing fake charity bags across different counties and collecting donations of clothing from unsuspecting members of the public, without ever intending to support the air ambulance charities. Not only can this deter members of the public from supporting local charities, it can also cause confusion when trying to differentiate bogus opportunists from legitimate charities and their collectors. BIU has called for local authorities to play a more active role in ensuring that doorstep collection licences have been obtained and bogus operators are swiftly investigated by the Trading Standards Institute. BIU does not currently operate any kerbside collections and advocates the textile bank system and making banks more secure so the public don’t have to leave their clothing at the roadside.
Despite such challenges, BIU has seen no direct evidence that these have had a huge effect on its own business. As one of the pioneering organisations in the industry, BIU is able to continually ensure it remains at the forefront of innovation and best practice and recently gained ISO 14001 and 9001 accreditation for its environmental and quality management systems. This, along with the organisation’s reciprocal agreements with long term and reputable sorting and grading merchants, has meant the level of funds raised for our charity partners has been maintained. And despite the bidding wars among textile recyclers to win commercial contracts, causing textile prices to become volatile, BIU can provide a stable price to local authorities and waste management companies, while delivering a textile collection service second-to-none.
Textiles recycling banks and organisations like BIU Group have become a vital lifeline for many local charities as they struggle to cope with the continuing recession and changes in legislation. To date, the company has raised over £4.5 million for its partner charities, including seven air ambulances, a children’s hospice, community sporting organisations and a disabled children’s mobility equipment provider. They also allow companies to illustrate their environmental responsibility and concern as well as their corporate social responsibility, by reducing the amount of clothing and textiles sent to landfill and giving back to the groups and communities that need it the most.
How BIU Group works
BIU recycling banks are sited in major retailer’s car parks and outside shops and eateries across the UK. Larger, more bespoke recycling banks are provided at household waste recycling centres.
The group currently operates across Yorkshire, the north-west, the south, the south-west and the south-east of England, working with a long list of charities as well as local authorities and private waste companies within the commercial sector. BIU uses branded vehicles and uniformed drivers carrying ID. It has in-house facilities, which include a workshop to carry out remedial work and its own trucks for transportation, to ensure site owners always have a well presented recycling bank on their land.
Clothes deposited in banks are collected, sorted and graded according to condition and the type of fibres used. Wearable, good quality items are resold to second-hand clothing retailers in the UK and overseas. Worn, damaged or ‘end of life’ garments are recycled into industrial wipers and cloths, mattress filling, insulation and new fibres.