Used textiles that are gathered in commingled collections by councils are often too contaminated to reuse after they have been through a materials recycling facility (MRF), according to industry insiders.
Paul Ozanne, recycling manager of Salvation Army Trading Company, told MRW that one of the biggest barriers to increasing used textile recycling is commingled collections.
Although textiles destined for MRFs are only supposed to be mixed with dry recyclates, they are often wet contaminated, he said.
Around a third (131) of councils in the UK collect textiles, according to 2011/12 figures from WRAP. In England, around a fifth of kerbside collection schemes that include textiles are commingled; of these around a third do not require residents to separate or protect their textiles in a non-reusable bag.
Contamination ruins the re-sale value of used clothing, Ozanne said.
He continued: “If you get one contaminated item in a clothing bank there’s a likelihood you are going to have to ditch most of the stuff in the clothing bank. There is no market for it. It’s cheaper for local authorities [to commingle] but I don’t know of a clothing collector who would want to collect it.”
A 2012 study of textile reuse found that textiles in commingled collections had average disposal costs of £84. On the other hand, revenue generated from segregated textiles collections ranged from £676 - £1,738 at textile banks and charity shops.
The washing and drying of contaminated clothes is too expensive to be viable for reprocessors, the textile reuse study - conducted by Axion Consulting with I & G Cohen on behalf of WRAP - also reported.
As a result, the majority of contaminated textiles are sent to energy from waste facilities. But Ozanne said that he would prefer to keep reuse levels at 80% or more, to push the materials higher up the waste hierarchy.
Alternatives to commingled collections include kerbside collections and tripartite collections, which involve a contracted waste collector, a local authority and a retailer such as a charity.
Ozanne said: “Any move that local authorities make to collect segregated at source textiles and shoes would be more than welcomed. However, we would accept there’s probably a cost to it.”
Joy Blizzard, chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) said the cost of kerbside collections was a huge factor in deciding whether to have commingled versus kerbside source collections.
Councils had their budgets slashed by a third in 2010, and additional pressure has been applied by the announcement in June’s Spending Review of a further 10% cut in 2015/16.
Blizzard added: “It’s about quality versus quantity versus ease of collection or otherwise. It’s a case of balance.” Although commingled collections may be on the rise, she said the MRF code of practice, due to be implemented on 26 April 2014, was bringing a much more concerted effort to look at the issue of quality as well as ease of collection.