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Challenged textiles sector needs new direction

Lower prices and falling demand globally for recovered UK textiles demand greater emphasis on reuse and the development of other sustainable end-markets, according to a report on the beleaguered sector.

Key trends in supply, demand and prices for recovered textiles – clothing and non-clothing but excluding carpets and mattresses – are explored in WRAP’s Textiles Market Situation Report.

It estimates that 1.7 million tonnes of textiles are consumed in the UK each year, including 1.1 million tonnes of clothing. Clothing consumption in the UK continues to increase. The textiles and clothing industry is the fifth largest contributor to the UK’s carbon footprint.

But the WRAP report finds that the market for recovered textiles is cooling off rapidly.

“The reuse and recycling market for used textiles has experienced an apparent turning point. The past few years saw substantial growth in exports, accompanied by large price rises and reports of an influx of new entrants into the market. 

“However, market conditions have now changed. Demand from overseas markets stalled in 2014 and is now falling. Prices and revenues from exports have been falling since 2013-14.”

The report says that the situation reduces incentives for recyclers and exporters to collect used textiles for reuse and recycling, risking an increase the use of landfill and incineration.

It concludes: “The sharp changes in the market and the uncertainty around some key export markets have highlighted the need for a wide range of sustainable end-markets, including greater reuse in domestic and overseas markets as well as market development for recycling grades, including closed loop fibre-to-fibre recycling.”

Alan Wheeler, director of the Textile Recycling Association, said the report was timely.

“The used clothing industry is going through an extremely difficult period, here in the UK and globally. Political and economic pressures are being put on existing markets and … continuing downward pressure on prices for used clothing is inevitable for some time to come.

“The UK needs to take a longer, more strategic, view on how to develop new markets which need to be less reliant on used clothing exports, and consideration of how to finance these developments needs to be given a high priority.”

Marcus Gover, director at WRAP, said: “The sector is facing a challenging time and having access to this in-depth information and analysis, summarised in one place, provides useful insights to help inform business decisions.”

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