WRAP analysis reveals challenges in used textiles market

The recycling rate of textiles in the UK fell by four per cent in 2014/15, due to rising consumption and a falling market for used textiles, according to a new analysis of the recovered UK textiles market.

The ‘Textiles Market Situation Report’, compiled by Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and released today (8 March), looks at the past and present of the textiles market, which includes clothing and non-clothing excluding carpets and mattresses. It summarises key trends and highlights opportunities for creating new sustainable end markets in the UK and abroad.

The report states that around 1.7 million tonnes of UK textiles are consumed every year, 1.1 million tonnes of which is clothing. The amount of textiles collected for re-use and recycling has increased from 2010, reaching a peak at an estimated 650,000 tonnes in 2014.

However, WRAP’s preliminary data suggests that in 2015 textiles collected fell by around four per cent, partly due to a decrease in the price that operators can get for used textiles in the various end-markets.

WRAP’s research suggests that the main destination for used UK textiles is overseas, predominantly sub-Saharan African countries, to which 36 per cent is exported. However, overseas demand has started to decrease and prices have been falling since 2013. Lower prices and reduced demand lessen the incentive for collecting used textiles, which could lead to more going to landfill and energy recovery.

The recent trends shown in the report highlight the need for a wide range of sustainable end-markets. These include re-use markets at home and overseas, as well as developing recycling grade markets for textiles that are no suitable for re-use, including fibre-to-fibre optics.

The textiles and clothing industry is the fifth largest contributor to the UK’s carbon footprint, according to figures from WRAP. The amount of clothes waste produced is equivalent to seven tonnes of clothes being thrown away every ten minutes and WRAP claims that by looking after clothes for an extra 9 months, you can reduce each item’s carbon, waste and water footprint by 20-30 per cent. Additionally, by providing one tonne of clothing for direct re-use (donate to charity or re-sell) can result in a net equivalent saving of 11 tonnes of CO2.

Clothing industry facing a ‘challenging time’

Commenting on the report, WRAP Director Marcus Gover said: “The sector is facing a challenging time and having access to this in-depth information and analysis, summarised in one place, provides useful insights to help inform their business decisions.”

Alan Wheeler, Director at Textile Recyclers Association, added: “The clothing industry is going through an extremely difficult period both here in the UK and globally. Political and economic pressures are being put on existing markets and this report shows that resultant UK collections actually decreased slightly in 2015.

“Yet consumption of new clothing is continuing to rise, with clothing prices still generally much lower than they used to be. Continuing downward pressure on prices for used clothing is inevitable for some time to come.

“The UK needs to take a much longer more strategic view on how to develop new markets which need to be less reliant on used clothing exports and consideration of how to finance these developments needs to be given a high priority.”

The Textiles Market Situation Report joins a series of reports produced by WRAP that examine current economic conditions and trends in the market for recovered materials. WRAP is working with industry through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) in the UK, and more widely in Europe through the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP).

The Textiles Market Situation Report can be found at WRAP’s website.