New report: UK re-use and recycling market for used textiles diluting

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Clotheschecking (Foto: IGC / Axion)

Banbury, UK — According to a new report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the conditions of re-use and recycling market for used textiles have changed. Demand from overseas markets stalled in 2014 and is now falling. Prices and revenues from exports have been falling since 2013/14.

It has been estimated that the UK consumes household-type textiles such as bed and table linen (around 295,000 tonnes), leisure textiles such as sleeping bags (around 30,000 tonnes), and shoes and bags (around 315,000 tonnes). In total, this data suggests consumption of clothing and non-clothing textiles was approximately 1.7 million tonnes in 2014 (excluding carpets and mattresses).

Extrapolating from this using updated data from the CRA and HMRC, and assuming the relative roles of exports and charities have remained broadly similar in relation to the total collected leads to an estimated 650,000 tonnes collected for re-use and recycling in 2014. Feeding into the various collection routes, WasteDataFlow data suggests that tonnages reported as collected for recycling and re-use by local authorities outside Scotland have fallen by 14 per cent between 2010/11 and 2013/14. Data is not available on a like-for-like basis for Scotland, but data for England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggests tonnages collected for recycling and re-use fell from around 128,000 tonnes in 2010/11 to around 110,000 tonnes in 2013/14.

WRAP research suggests that once textiles have been collected for re-use and recycling, the largest end market is the export market. Based on 2010 data, over half of the textiles that have been collected for recycling or re-use are exported, while 32 per cent are destined for re-use in the UK (through charity shops) and 9 per cent for recycling. The trade of used textiles globally amounted to 4.2 million tonnes (in 2014), with a value of $4.4bn. The export of used textiles is a well- established trade in the UK. In 2014, the UK exported nearly 352,000 tonnes of used textiles, worth £342m, making it the third largest exporter of used textiles in the world after the United States and Germany.

The downward trend in 2014 and 2015 partly reflects lower demand (as seen in the stalling of export volumes in 2014 and their actual decline in 2015) as well as related factors such as the appreciation of the pound against the Euro – reducing competitiveness of UK exports and putting downward pressure on prices. Part of the fall is also likely to be linked with the unwinding of the factors which fuelled the earlier rise: increased export opportunities, the influx of new entrants coming in to the market to take advantage of the opportunities, increased instances of theft and illegal collections and the emergence of business models that become less sustainable when prices cool off.

WRAP’s Materials Pricing Report includes coverage of prices for recovered textiles and shows prices for textiles banks’ materials falling from a high of £450/t in April 2013 to around £200/t in mid-January 2016.

The full „Textiles Market Situation Report“ can be downloaded under wrap.org.uk.

Source: Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)