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Short supply chain is essential to successful textile recycling and maximising value

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Short supply chain is essential to successful textile recycling and maximising value

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Published by Kathy Wilkinson for I & G Cohen in Environment and also in Central Government, Communities, Local Government

Delegates at the What a Waste! textile recycling event Delegates at the What a Waste! textile recycling event

Closer partnerships between textile recyclers,  local authorities and waste management companies can play a major role in diverting greater volumes of discarded clothing and household textiles from landfill, delegates at the UK’s first dedicated textile recycling seminar heard.

Shortening the supply chain from residents to recyclers is essential to preserving quality, minimising contamination and extracting the maximum value from the hundreds of thousands of household textiles discarded in the UK every year.

Latest figures show that 350,000 tonnes of clothing are being sent to landfill in the UK each year, with a further 70,000 tonnes destined for incineration.

Co-hosted by Manchester-based textile recycler i + g cohen ltd and resource recovery specialist Axion Consulting, the What a Waste! Event at the city’s Museum of Science and Industry in November attracted more than 70 delegates from the local authority and waste management sectors. Feedback from attendees was very positive.

In exploring innovative ways of diverting used clothing and textiles from landfill and generating new income sources, the one-day seminar and exhibition also emphasised the significant resource value of discarded textiles and the benefits of re-use over recycling them, particularly for global export markets.

As i + g cohen ltd Managing Director Elliot Cohen pointed out: “Given that two-fifths of the world’s population will never be able to afford to buy good quality clothing, these end markets offer tremendous opportunities. Used clothing and textiles are a resource, not a waste, that can bring in valuable revenue for councils.”

In his presentation on Feedstock Sources and Values, i + g cohen ltd Director Phil Geller reported on results from WRAP-funded trials, conducted by i + g cohen ltd and Axion, which showed that 81-89% of collected clothing is reusable with little variation between established and popular collection routes, such as textile banks, door-to-door and kerbside collections.

“Separation at source and sorting clothing as soon as possible after collection is key to maximising value and the amount that can subsequently be reused. Keeping it clean, dry and free from contamination is vital,” said Phil Geller.

Enabling householders to recycle their unwanted textiles along with their everyday recyclables is proving a success for Suffolk Waste Partnership, a strategic partnership of seven district councils and the county council. Every year, 7,000 tonnes of textiles in residual waste end up in Suffolk landfill sites.

SWP Support Manager Rob Cole presented a case study to show how their cost-neutral, county-wide scheme, funded by the SWP’s in-house Resource Efficiency Fund, had already collected 350 tonnes since its introduction in July 2012 with no evidence to date of any adverse effect on the county’s existing methods of textiles collections, such as bring sites and charities.

Residents’ SWP-branded bags containing unwanted clothes are collected from the recycling bins as part of the scheduled collections and then removed from the other co-mingled materials in the MRF’s pre-sort cabin - potentially saving £220,000 a year in landfill disposal costs.

Rob Cole said: “The communication campaign which accompanied our scheme’s launch has helped to boost our collection volumes. By making it easy for residents to recycle their unwanted textiles, we aim to capture more material from the residual waste bins and reduce the cost and volume of sending them to landfill.”

Alan Wheeler, National Liaison Manager for The Textile Recycling Association, discussed the growing current and future markets for textile reuse and recycling, pointing out that 60% of used clothing collected in 2011 was reused.

“Strategies are in place to encourage local authorities to start textile collections and tackle the readily-available supply of clothing that is still being thrown into the bin,” said Alan. “We have to strike a balance with charity shop collections; but it’s important to note that donations to charity shops have increased alongside the growth in kerbside collections, suggesting that these have had no impact on charity shop collections.”

Presentations also featured Sander Jongerius on automatic sorting for textiles and clothes developed by Textiles 4 Textiles BV and Izzie Johnston from WRAP who examined the opportunities and challenges for ‘closing the UK textiles loop’.

Axion Director Roger Morton stressed the need for collaboration throughout the supply chain, adding: “With around 60kg of textile waste being generated per UK household every year, local authorities need to develop the most efficient solutions that ultimately benefit all. There’s an ‘urban mine’ out there that will generate income that can be ploughed back into local communities.”

Delegates’ feedback was extremely positive with 80% rating the event as good to excellent with praise for the ‘interesting discussions’, ‘good mix of delegates’ and event organisation. One commented: “A great event. We now have lots of plans in the pipeline to get more value from our textiles and really think about how we handle them.”

Ian Matheson, Operations Manager at Blythswood Care, a charity retailer and recycler, found the day ‘very useful’ in providing information and encouragement for councils and community groups to promote more textile recycling.

On display at the event were items made from discarded leather and denim clothes by Fashion Design undergraduates at the University of Salford to demonstrate ‘second life’ opportunities for waste textiles and their great capacity for re-use. These included a waterproof coat and trousers, denim sunglasses, toys, iPad cases and a rocking chair, showing how beautiful and desirable fashion and lifestyle products can be made - or ‘upcycled’ -from used denim garments.

i + g cohen ltd, whose partnership recycling schemes with councils and waste management companies include charities, kerbside and textile bank collections, supplied all the denim items for the project.

Contact i + g cohen ltd on 0161 736 8899, email info@igcohen.com or visit the website at www.igcohen.com and Axion Consulting on Axion Consulting on 0161 426 7731 or visit the website - www.axionconsulting.co.uk.

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