Textile recycling sector faces unprecedented financial crisis amid global market pressure

The Textile Recycling Association (TRA) warns of a potential collapse in the UK's textile recycling industry due to severe global market challenges, risking environmental damage and significant job losses.

Used textiles for exportIn a concerning development, the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) has warned that a critical situation is developing within the UK's textile recycling sector, as a result of global market challenges.

Representing over three-quarters of the UK's used textiles collectors and sorters, the TRA highlights a stark reality: processing plants are at full capacity, rendering further collection from charity shops, recycling centres, and community textile banks impossible. This bottleneck threatens not only the industry's sustainability, but also poses significant environmental risks, which the trade association points out, includes microplastic and water pollution and the increased dumping of textile waste in the residual waste stream.

The ongoing crisis in the Red Sea, with Houthi attacks disrupting shipping lines, has substantially escalated operational costs for textile merchants. Coupled with increasing taxation in African and Asian markets and growing pressure to limit waste exports, the TRA reports that the sector now faces a daunting financial challenge.

It also warns that fast fashion, characterised by an increased turnover of low-quality textiles in the recycling stream, has also contributed significantly to the operational burdens, pushing many merchants toward financial insolvency.

Exacerbating the longer-term picture, the potential halt of textile sorting operations in several European countries due to proposed export bans is raising concerns about potential future constriction of export processing capacity. Recently, Sweden, France, and Denmark led a call for new global regulations to limit export of textile waste to developing countries as part of the Basel convention. Highlighting that the volume of used textiles exported from the EU has tripled over the past two decades, they advocate for a requirement of prior informed consent for the import and export of textile waste and a complete ban on the export of hazardous textile waste.

In light of these challenges, the TRA calls upon the UK Government to intervene with regulatory measures, including the introduction of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme, to ensure the sector's sustainability. Such a scheme, aims to make producers accountable for the environmental impact of their products throughout their life cycle, potentially providing a lifeline to the beleaguered industry. However, to date, Defra has so far rejected calls for an EPR scheme to cover textiles, in contrast to the European Union, which is now preparing legislation.

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