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Charity collections explained

Demand is outstripping supply and yet we are still dumping 430,000 tonnes of used clothing in landfill.

There have been two important documents published recently which are likely to have significant ramifications for the used clothing industry and its’ markets over the next few years.

On 11 July at the Clothing Roadmap Conference, WRAP launched the eagerly awaited technical report into “Valuing our Clothes”, which looked at the global impact on carbon emissions, water and waste of UK Clothing.

So with demand for used clothing at an all-time high and with so many options for the public to send their clothing for re-use or recycling, why are 430,000 tonnes still being dumped?

The report identified that some people thought their clothing couldn’t be used again for any purpose, or they did not want others to wear it.  However, it also highlighted that people would be more likely to recycle/re-use clothing if they knew that it had a value to charities and recyclers. The report also identified key interventions.

The second important publication which came out on 16th July also highlighted an issue that may account for some of the dumping.  Lord Hodgson published his review into the Charities Act 2006.  The review highlighted issues and inconsistencies around the licensing of charitable door to door collections and the unfair situation whereby purely commercial clothing collectors can operate door to door clothing collections with little or no legal restraint. By extension, the report highlighted the confusion amongst the public and media as to which collections are legitimate and worthy of support. 

The simple message is often lost.  Whether a charity collection is operated by the charity itself or by a commercial partner, the profit going towards the charitable purpose after these costs have been deducted are broadly similar.  Even if the public donate directly to a charity shop or clothing bank, the costs that have deducted before any proceeds go to the charity are significant.  But all legitimate charity clothing collections are worthy of support.

Lord Hodgson made a number of key recommendations including the abolition of National Exemption Orders for larger charitable collectors, to look at whether all collections (commercial and charity) can be licensed and to set up a standing committee (including representation from the Textile Recycling Association) to drive these changes forward.  A number of the proposals are quite radical and predictably some stakeholders have genuine concerns about changing the status quo.

However, the current legal framework is not fit for purpose.   Most charity collectors have to adhere to an inconsistently applied licensing regime, save the few that have national exemptions, whilst non-charitable collectors operate unhindered.   Consistency in the ways which some charities report the amount of money they receive is also lacking.  One charity is notorious for comparing apples with pears by quoting the revenue they receive in percentage terms and contrasting this with extreme examples of minimum net profit received by other charities after the substantial collection costs have been deducted.  The result being that the public get the impression that their clothing collections makes up to 20 times as much profit as other charitable collections, which is far from the case.

The TRA welcomes the opportunity to work with the Cabinet Office to improve the regulation and practices around the licensing of door to door clothing collections to make the process fairer and more transparent.  We also realise the importance of continuing the support the vital work being undertaken by WRAP to instigate further interventions to get more clothing diverted away from disposal.  We also encourage WRAP, DEFRA and the Cabinet Office to take a coordinated approach on matters where their priorities overlap. 

If we can achieve this, not only will the overall environmental sustainability of the UK clothing industry be improved, but with increased reliable supplies of used clothing coming from the UK, this should help to temper the prevailing inflationary characteristics that have dominated the industry for the last seven years.  This in turn should enable businesses to make predictions about the future state of the global market with some degree of confidence in the medium term and plan accordingly.

Alan Wheeler, national liaison manager, Textiles Recycling Association

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