In March 2014, South Holland District Council (SHDC), in partnership with Salvation Army Trading Company (SATCoL), launched an initiative with the objective of collecting more recycling-grade textiles.
It was one of three six-month projects funded by WRAP to help determine:
- the most viable ways to increase the amount of recycling-grade textiles diverted from the waste stream
- whether such collections resulted in additional textiles being diverted from the residual waste stream
- whether public perception is a barrier to the collection of recycling-grade textiles
- the business case for collecting recycling-grade textiles separately
Compared with two other mechanisms trialled in different areas – fortnightly kerbside collections and separate highand low- grade textile banks at recycling centres – the SHDC project generated by far the highest volume of textiles per household, at 6.05kg.
Reasons attributed to this were the presence of a trusted charity partner in The Salvation Army and the intensity of communications, which was more focused in this trial. SATCoL’s figures show that donations to its local clothing banks and door-to-door bags were not adversely affected, suggesting that the scheme collected additional textiles.
Analysis showed that collections were 77% reuse grade, with only 3% recycling grade, the lowest of all the trials. The remainder was made up of 14% shoes and 6% waste (also the lowest of the trial schemes).
For the project, SHDC provided a weekly kerbside textile collection, distributing bags to more than 5,000 households. Blue, green and Salvation Army-branded bags were used to collect textiles only. Using branding from the wider WRAP campaign ‘Don’t Throw Them Away’, as well as Salvation Army branding, leaflets and postcards were distributed. The council also used local newspaper advertising, its website, social media and faceto- face visits to promote the scheme.
Messaging focused on recycling-grade textiles that are not reusable in their original form but could be recycled, such as worn out clothing or odd socks.
The bags were collected by SHDC and taken to a local depot where SATCoL weighed and graded the items to provide accurate data. Collections were then sent to SATCoL’s central transfer station in Northamptonshire to be processed for reuse or recycling.
David Rodwell, council engagement and monitoring officer, explains: “We were really pleased with the impact of this trial, which increased textile collection rates by 0.5% during the period of the trial. Residents were receptive to the introduction of separate textile collections, which shows that our marketing and messaging hit the mark.
“One area that we could have improved was in encouraging more recycling-grade items alongside the reusable pieces.”
Tom Richardson, area manager for SATCoL adds: “The Salvation Army branding was at the forefront of the council’s communication, and post-trial surveys with residents indicated that they felt compelled to donate better quality items because of this link.
“This is an important learning point. Reusable items are needed for generating revenue, whereas the focus for lower-value recyclable items is to divert them from landfill – both of which are important.”
Despite the lower value of recycling-grade textiles, reports from across the trials – even where greater volumes of such textiles were collected – indicate that costs were more than covered. Part of the business case for collecting lower-grade items is that local authorities can save around £100 per tonne in landfill charges, demonstrating the clear financial benefits of this approach.
Following the success of the trial, a formal partnership agreement is now in place between SHDC and SATCoL. The original households continue to receive weekly collections, and the council is rolling out the new approach in phases to additional homes. It is estimated that, if the scheme is incorporated across the entire district, the recycling total could increase by 3%. And the charity link remains part of the council’s strategy.
Rodwell adds: “We appreciate that, for schemes like this to work, they need to be underpinned by revenue-generating reusable items, which provide the financial stability so that lower value items can be diverted from landfill in a commercially viable way.
“Drawing on SATCoL’s decades of experience helps us plan for peaks and troughs in collections and to mitigate against unexpected costs, which is also commercially important. But, the bottom line for us is that we are reducing the amount of reusable and recyclable textiles that go to landfill and, from that point of view, we are delighted with the scheme’s success and growth potential.”