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Textiles - 8 February 2013

During this early period in 2013, the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) is finding itself in a strange juxtaposition. On the one hand, it is preparing for its 100th anniversary AGM and Parliamentary reception which will be taking place later this month.

This is clearly something to celebrate, and our members who attend will be able to find out more about the positive work that is being done to promote clothing and textile recycling.

But the celebration cannot hide the fact that the industry is in severe crisis. Already this year, two textile reclamation companies have gone out of business. This is on top of the three former TRA members that closed in 2012. 

We are also receiving reports that some textile collectors are delaying payments to their charity and business partners. Tensions are running high among some collectors, who have expressed strong concerns about the amount they have to pay for the clothing and textiles they collect. 

At the moment, the total number of jobs lost through closures has been 100-200 nationwide. But this number could become significantly higher and more businesses may close unless the financially overheated textile/clothing collection and recycling business resets itself in a controlled manner.

One industry spokesman said that discussions have been held about how a crash in prices can be avoided. But it is inevitable that we will see a decline in prices of between £50 and £100 per tonne. This is likely across all grades, including those from textile banks as well as charity shops. Some people are predicting that the price drops could be significantly higher than £100/tonne. 

The TRA and the Charity Recycling Association are in talks about this matter, which is a major concern to members of both organisations. They are looking to develop a joint strategy which could help both textile collectors and charity shops to mitigate their risks of becoming victims of this crisis. Further news of this initiative will be forthcoming.

However, sensible business practices must prevail with immediate effect. Charities, councils and other organisations should avoid the temptation to chase after the highest headline rate, without asking searching questions of the business offering such prices. 

And textile collectors also need to play their part. Letters and publicity are still being distributed that offer charities increased prices for their clothing when others are dropping theirs. This seems very odd indeed. 

If charity shops are being presented with these offers, they may want to consider asking the collectors whether they would be prepared to sign a legal fixed-term contract, with regular price reviews. Shops could also consider investing in their own set of calibrated scales and issue their own Waste Transfer Notes, with the weight of clothing agreed with the collector before items are taken away. 

The overall message is that if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. When charities and councils partner with textile collectors, all parties should aim to strike a deal that everyone is happy with. If the deal is beneficial to one side of the partnership and squeezes the other, any financial gains realised in the short term by the side that is up will soon be wiped out when the deal collapses.

Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on the quality, regularity and reliability of service at a price that is fair for all.

Confidence in a business partner is also of paramount importance. All new applicants to the TRA are required to demonstrate that they uphold several key legal and good business practice requirements, including their legal Duty of Care obligations. 

Although the list of requirements may seem long, the TRA would expect all textile collectors to meet such standards if they are conducting their business in the proper manner.

The TRA also recently introduced a code of practice, which is mandatory for its members. It encourages organisations that are looking to engage in textile collections to use businesses that uphold standards of the TRA.

Collection businesses that are currently not members should consider making an application. Not only will it help them to demonstrate credibility and help to instil confidence in the organisations they work with, but also will assist in keeping up to date with the latest developments.

If we all work together in partnership through this difficult period, then we may be able to reduce some of the adverse effects of the current economic woes.

Alan Wheeler, national liaison manager, Textile Recycling Association

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