According to WRAP research, recovering just 10% of the 1.4 million tonnes of textiles sent to landfill each year in the UK could unlock up to £24m and deliver huge environmental benefits.
The study, Textile Product Flow and Market Development Opportunities in the UK, revealed how less than one-third of textiles are recovered for recycling, reuse or energy recovery. There is a vast untapped potential of used items.
Tapping into it would help to cut our carbon footprint and preserve these materials for reuse. Textiles recycling is a labour-intensive industry, so capturing these resources would secure thousands of jobs with associated economic and environmental benefits.
Textile recyclers are working hard to educate and encourage debate about different ways to recycle and divert textiles from landfill.
Earlier this month, I&G Cohen co-hosted the What a Waste seminar and exhibition with resource recovery specialist Axion Consulting. It explored innovative ways to tackle the estimated 350,000 tonnes of used clothing that goes to landfill in the UK every year. If all this material was given up for reuse, it would generate more than £140m of additional income.
Councils need to forge stronger partnerships with textile recyclers so they can extract more value from their discarded textiles and prevent them being landfilled.
So why haven’t more of councils capitalised on this waste stream? Maybe it is lack of time, lack of awareness of collection schemes, even sheer inertia. People do not seem to realise that if they partner with the right company, it is easy to generate this revenue.
Councils can also group together to secure good deals.
By offering more sites to textile recyclers, they can benefit from more efficient and comprehensive services and raise more money.
Recyclatex represents 14 companies that provide a nationwide, cost-effective and reliable clothes recycling service to councils, waste management companies and charities. By partnering with recognised recyclers, there is a guaranteed level and continuity of service.
Councils may not always be aware that new collection systems can run alongside existing ones. So if charity schemes are already in place, other collection methods can run as well. As the entire operation is run by the recycler, there is no cost or logistics involved for the local authority.
Everything has a value: from modern to vintage
Textiles can be collected in a number of ways. Recent trials that I&G Cohen conducted with Axion Consulting on behalf of WRAP showed that more than four out of five textile items donated via established routes can be successfully reused or recycled.
At I&G Cohen, we employ 60 people whose job it is to sort, grade and give those garments a new purpose.
People do not always realise that nearly everything they discard has some kind of value as long as it is clean, dry and free from contamination.
Each tonne of clothing, handbags and shoes gets sorted and graded for different markets across the world. Lightweight clothing is sent to Africa, some heavier clothing and lower grades end up in Pakistan and India, while smaller amounts of high-value items will go to eastern Europe.
And let’s not forget vintage clothing. While comprising around 1% of the total collected, this sector supports hundreds of jobs across the UK for people mending, repairing and selling these sought-after garments at fairs across the country.
Other materials can be recycled into vehicle insulation products or wiping cloths for cleaning purposes. Even low-grade items can be given a second lease of life.
Phil Geller, director of I&G Cohen and chairman of Recyclatex