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Material Focus: Textiles

It’s the ‘silly season’ – time for the news­papers to be filled with pictures of sweat­ing commuters and scenes of scorched grass in the nation’s parks and gardens.

Talking about scorching: fashion retailer Burberry hit the headlines with the news that nearly £30m of stock had been burned “to pro­tect the brand’s exclusivity and value”. But it had captured the energy from the burning to try to make the process “more environmentally friendly” – so that’s all right, then.

It was certainly a horror story for the tabloid press to fill their pages. But not one for the textile recycling industry, which has long known that major brands have indulged in this practice for decades. But what about the stories that do not make the national press?

How about the national scandal of illegal door-to-door textile collections being made by shadowy companies that plunder the goodwill and wardrobes of the UK public for dodgy charities; and councils so woefully understaffed that they cannot afford to enforce the legis­lation that exists to prevent it happen­ing?

This is very easy money for crooks – find a small charity that needs some income and tell them that a door-to-door campaign can boost it.

Even that is not necessary because some of these enterprises that operate below the radar simply establish their own ‘charity’, get it registered (and that number rises by 5,000 each year) and then embark upon a nationwide collec­tion scheme. They know that local authority licensing officers are so over­whelmed that getting caught for operat­ing without a licence is about as likely as football coming home someday.

Or the nationwide theft of bona fide charity textile banks by criminal gangs who see this as justified – because their own illegal banks dumped at a super­market near you were removed by legit­imate authorities. Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it?

But your level of disbelief needs room to grow. When one Textile Recycling Association (TRA) member traced its stolen bank to a yard in the West Mid­lands and called the police, the response was that it was probably just a ‘tit for tat’ reaction – because the owner of the yard had had its illegal banks taken following the issuing of statutory removal notices, which it chose to ignore.

By contrast, google for headlines about charity collection boxes being stolen from bar tops – now that will be a shock because the boys in blue will pursue it with vigour. What is the differ­ence between a charity collection box and a charity textile bank? About 500kg in weight and £1,000 in value.

But the police, like councils, are under-resourced and over-stretched, so the textile industry has to endure the problem of theft on an industrial scale by criminal networks stealing from tex­tile banks as opposed to taking the whole bank.

“How about the national scandal of illegal door-to-door textile collections being made by shadowy companies that plunder the goodwill and wardrobes of the uk public for dodgy charities; and councils so woefully understaffed that they cannot afford to enforce the legislation that exists to prevent it happening?”

Even though TRA members have placed trackers in their banks, recorded the vehicles and people involved in the clothing theft, traced them to business addresses and witnessed illegal workers (paid in cash, no names) sorting the clothes for export, when this is reported to the police, crime commissioners, HMRC, MPs and other regulatory authorities – nothing happens. This is despite the fact that such criminality involves people trafficking, money laun­dering and VAT fraud.

For TRA members and the Charity Retail Association (CRA), these stories are not just ‘silly season’ – they are ongoing problems which members of both organisations face. Yet they are essential in providing donation points for peo­ple’s unwanted clothes and shoes, responsible retailers facilitating in-store collection points, and environmentally friendly policies for disposing of end-of-line or unsold stock.

Until we tackle the problem of fast fashion, it is vital that the textile collec­tion infrastructure championed by the TRA and CRA are maintained.

This at a time when councils around the country are closing bring bank sites due to an epidemic of fly-tipping – which in itself is a causal effect of new regimes that charge fees for disposal of household refuse and make it harder for people to dispose of items.

It is one thing for the likes of environ­ment secretary Michael Gove, Defra, WRAP and eco-friendly organisations to bang on about reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill – the reality on the ground, or in your nearby country lane or layby, is far different.

But never mind – autumn isn’t far away and then we will return to more serious stories. Did I mention Brexit?

Ian Woods is business development manager at Lawrence M Barry & Co and a former president of UK Textile Recycling Association

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