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Councils need charities and their textile banks

Paul Ozanne, national recycling co-ordinator at Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd, says local authorities should consider the wider benefits of contracting charity clothing collectors.

Salvation Army Trading Company Ltd (SATCoL) runs one of the UK’s largest and most comprehensive clothing collection schemes, operating more than 6,500 clothing banks and distributing over 400,000 door-to-door collection bags per week around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Over the past 22 years we have experienced the many highs and lows of the textile recycling industry, each time adapting our clothing collection scheme to ensure continuous service for our clients through good and challenging times.

A challenge in recent years has been local authorities getting increasingly swayed by the high prices per tonne offered by commercial collectors, making it very difficult for charity collectors to mount competitive bids for local authority contracts.

The past three years have seen a boom in used clothing prices, largely due to expanding markets in Eastern Europe where tens of thousands of clothing shops have opened. This price increase has led to a plethora of new operators entering the industry, with the imagined potential for high rewards encouraging both new and established commercial collectors to offer high prices per tonne to secure contracts. Combined with the fact that local authorities are understandably looking to increase revenue wherever possible, remuneration for the collected clothing is more important than ever, often weighted at anything from 55% to 90% of the total marks during the tendering process.

However, we would encourage local authorities to look beyond the price per tonne, which is often unsustainable in the long run due to fluctuating market prices and squeezed profit margins. Although charity collectors cannot compete with commercial collectors on this basis without making significant sacrifices to the amounts they donate to good causes, there are many other benefits to using their services.

Our experience suggests that the public like to donate their unwanted clothing and textile items to charities and healthy donation levels contribute significantly to recycling and waste reduction targets. In addition, profit generated by the charities is spent in communities throughout the UK, providing valuable services and alleviating pressure on council resources. The Salvation Army, for example, provides homelessness, elderly care, employment and addictions services – all of which add real value to the communities in which they operate. We would argue that local authorities cannot afford to overlook this point.

Despite increased competition over local authority contracts, SATCoL is maintaining healthy collection levels, with well in excess of 30,000 tonnes of used clothing collected each year in recent times and £22.5 million gift-aided to The Salvation Army between 2010 and 2013 alone. We attribute this to the growth of our corporate partnerships, as well as continued support from our remaining authority partners and the public. However, with council bring banks sites still an important source of donations, we would encourage decision makers to remember the added value that charity collectors can bring to their communities. 

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