After eight and half years serving at Satcol, Paul Ozanne has come to MRW towers to deliver a final appraisal of what he calls the ‘unpredictable’ textile industry.
Unusually, he is not wearing his Satcol uniform complete with tie, jacket and epaulettes, perhaps a sign of impending departure.
He radiates pride for the Salvation Army, one of the best known brands in the world, operating in 126 countries, and one of the UK’s largest providers of community welfare services (£160m invested in the UK each year).
As we run through his recycling tenure at Satcol, it is clear that he will leave behind a far slicker and successful operation than the one he took on.
Ozanne said: “There came a stage a little while ago where people put out messages like: ‘Don’t put your clothes on the doorstep because they’ll get nicked. Take them to the charity shop’.
“Then somebody else said, ‘Don’t take them to the charity shop we can pick them up easily’. This was very confusing for the public, but the industry has come a long way since then.”
During his time there Ozanne has boosted textile recycling’s public profile, and by collaborating with WRAP has helped improve the industry’s green credentials.
He supported WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP 2020) calling for an industry focus on water and carbon emissions after it emerged that it takes 800 litres of water to make a t-shirt.
Using WRAP’s carbon assessment tool, Ozanne estimates that Satcol saved 210,000 tonnes of carbon last year.
He added: “From the 36,000 tonnes of donations we had last year, less than 60 tonnes went to landfill. We are not at zero waste yet, but 0.2% of residual material (to landfill) is a good figure.”
On a less positive note, fly-tipping has become an increasing problem for the sector, highlighted in Eunomia’s latest report ‘Tackling Waste Crime: Britain’s Dirty Secret’.
Ozanne said: “Supermarkets will ask us to move our clothing banks if there is fly-tipping even if the clothing bank is not necessarily the cause of it. So we’ve taken a serious look at this and done pilot projects, which have resulted in a prosecution.”
“It is surprising how quickly fly-tipping stops after a prosecution in that area.”
For example, Satcol identified a fly-tipping hotspot in South London and sent a surveillance team in with cameras. Ozanne said he would like to see more funding put into these types of projects.
Satcol also worked with crime fighting companies SmartWater and CrimeDeter to carry out covert operations with police using the sizes of shirt buttons as trackers.
“We’ve secured six prosecutions in 12 months, but they are all from the same country which points to organised crime,” said Ozanne.
During Ozanne’s early years, Satcol was under pressure from merchants not to sort clothing, because they wanted original materials, that had not been “cherry-picked” by charity shops or sorted into grades.
Ozanne said merchant’s wanted to sort in their own country and he admitted that when Satcol did stop sorting, there was a loss of jobs in the UK.
On the other hand, this created thousands of jobs in importing, storage, transport and retail in the eight European countries that Satcol trades with.
It is in the last three years, however, that the industry has seen “some huge changes” according to Ozanne.
“You have got a very high price for clothing, so the competition for local authority sites has got fierce.
“Subsequently some collectors are able to offer a price higher than I can offer without sacrificially affecting the money I am giving to the Salvation Army.”
As a result, Satcol has lost 30% of its local authority sites over the three years, and almost entirely moved out of Wales.
Ozanne added: “We are not immune to the attrition and local authorities have been lured by the large incomes, which haven’t always materialised. This has led to a drastic overheating of the market.”
He said some industry members expect a significant price drop in six months.
Excluding Africa, Ozanne’s opinion is that there will be a “drastic” drop of up to 30% within 18 months.
Citing the fact that 11 established textile businesses have gone out of business in the last year, he said: “I am surprised that we haven’t seen one or two more go this year. Times are very tough out there.”
“It’s not good, because ultimately you could end up with one or two very large collectors that can dictate conditions for the market.”
A glimmer of hope came in the form of the Social Value Act 2012, which made it mandatory for local authorities to consider social and environmental impacts when procuring public service contracts instead of just choosing the lowest price offers.
But Ozanne said: “It’s a shame the Act has been totally ignored, in the main.”
However, some authorities have been sensitive to the Act and have offered free compensation when charities have been removed, he said.
Satcol is ensuring its future by not relying on local authorities. Corporate partnerships, mainly with superstores, now make up 75% of its collections, raising an additional £6.5m for store partnership charities in three years.
Furthermore Satcol budgeted for a 10% reduction in collections this year, yet it is up 6-8% in the first 10 months. It is putting on a net gain every month despite losing council sites.
Ozanne said: “We don’t understand why, but we are delighted.”
The organisation now has 6,600 clothing banks compared to 2,000 eight years ago, which is another reason for optimism.
Ozanne repeatedly noted the importance of charity as an incentive for the public to donate clothing, especially with the trusted Salvation Army brand.
However, he noted that commingling ramains the biggest barrier to increasing collections.
“The MRF operators hate it because it cocks up all the materials. Commingled textiles are usually contaminated and there is little scope for low grade contaminated clothing in the UK market.
“Collections have to be source-segregated, but that is an expensive way of doing it.”
Returning to the issue of sorting, Ozanne said Satcol screens exports carefully so that it can confirm that more than 99% of its exports are reused or recycled with up to 80% sold to be worn again.
Looking forward, Ozanne wants to see a benchmarking for collectors on the proportion of profits that they give to charity as well as measurements on the effectiveness of their recycling processes.
For Satcol he envisages at least another five to six years of buoyant prices in the Eastern European market.
He said: “Payment is assured, however, a prudent collector will always be looking for other avenues to market as you can never tell.”
In conclusion he added: “The whole eight and a half years has been a total high. It’s a very addictive industry.”
Ozanne spent 26 years as a bank manager in retail branch banking. He moved on to corporate life and pensions at Norwich Union (now Aviva).
He went to the Salvation Army as the first layman regional PR director for eight years, before it dispensed with its PR department and he was made redundant.
From here he moved the Children’s Society as fundraising manager and then returned to the Salvation Army under its Satcol branch as national recycling co-ordinator for more than eight years.