Public unaware that textile donations benefit commercial companies, says new report

Two thirds of textile bank users are unaware that many clothing banks are run by commercial operators, according to a new report by textile reuse charity TRAID.

The report, entitled ‘Taking Stock’, which investigated the perception versus reality of who benefits from textile recycling banks, found that 88 per cent of people prefer to use clothing banks run by a charity.

TRAID's Taking Stock report

However, with local authorities facing increasing financial pressure, many councils are charging significant fees for the right to operate textile banks, meaning that charity clothing banks are being replaced by commercial companies that can afford the high costs.

Since 2009, the replacement of TRAID’s textile recycling banks with banks run by commercial companies has resulted in an annual potential loss of over £850,000 of the charity’s income.

Maria Chenoweth, CEO at TRAID, commented: “We are not asking councils to stop making commercial decisions. We are asking them to ensure that charities are not the victim of commercial decisions.

“By listening to residents, improving transparency about who profits from donations and ensuring commercial companies are not placed at the expense of charities, but in addition to them, local authorities can continue to support charities and their residents.”

Robin Osterley, CEO at the Charity Retail Association, added: “Each year, more than 11,000 charity shops raise £295 million for a range of good causes across the United Kingdom, and the ability to source donations from textile banks is vital to this.

“The charity retail sector also makes a huge contribution to the environment. In 2018, 327,000 tonnes of textiles were diverted from landfill and into reuse and recycling. This makes a positive difference to the UK’s carbon footprint, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by around seven million tonnes through green activities.”

According to the report, 66 per cent of people would stop donating if they knew that their local textile bank was run by a commercial company, and 79 per cent of people think that local councils should award all textile bank contracts to charities.

In light of the report’s findings, TRAID has published a series of recommendations to put pressure on councils to change their approach to textile recycling banks. These recommendations include: greater transparency about who benefits from textile banks; a commitment from local authorities to ensure that at least 60 per cent of textile banks on council sites are charity-led; and a commitment from local authorities that existing charity textile banks will not be removed.

Chenoweth added: “These recommendations create a further solution which suits all parties while continuing to provide the UK public with the opportunity to support charities with their clothes donations, which they clearly want.

“With around 300,000 tonnes of textile still going to landfill every year, and consumption of clothes on the rise, we need to increase the number of textile banks in use. There is room for everyone.”

Widespread criminality

Over recent years, the textile recycling industry has increasingly seen charities fall victim to both theft and fraud, as the high market value of textiles means that the sector is vulnerable to exploitation and criminality. Textile theft has recently risen to increased public prominence – according to the Textile Recycling Association (TRA), 750 clothing banks were stolen across the UK between January and March 2018, costing charities around £370,000 in donations.

There have also been reports of fake and unlicenced clothing collection banks deceiving the public into donating towards fake charities.

Moreover, the sector has been troubled by incidents of labour exploitation, where vulnerable individuals are forced into modern slavery, often carrying out collections of donated textiles or being forced to steal from collection banks while receiving derisory pay and being housed in sub-standard accommodation.

In response to this widespread criminality, a new accreditation standard, TRUST (Trader Recycling Universal Standard), has been established for recyclers who trade with charity shops, to ensure that collectors meet appropriate health and safety, employment and legal guidelines.

You can read the full report on TRAID’s website.

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