Thursday 10 March 2016

WRAP: Are We Sending More Clothes Than Ever To Landfill?

A new report from sustainability certifiers WRAP bears worrying news for those of us who hope that we're starting to do better when it comes to taking control of our wardrobes.

The report warns that there has been a hard drop in demand for used clothes in the UK. While clothing consumption as a whole is rising, 2015 saw a decline in the figures for textiles being either re-used or recycled. The likely end result? An increase in clothes going to landfill.

What's causing this cooling off in the market? Well, as ever there's no one answer. But an important part of the puzzle is the export market. We send most of our used textiles for reuse overseas, and demand, as well as prices, have been dropping since 2013. As we buy nearly £1.1 million tons of clothing in the UK every year, that's a lot of potential garments heading for the tip.

The problem is that it's hard to put a proper annual figure on the amount of clothing we have to hand. Typically, a garment will last for over three years, and may be swapped between friends or family members, or sold privately online. WRAP themselves admit that current methodology doesn't really do the job, and their own metrics are based primarily on import figures from HMRC (sad to say, but the vast majority of our clothes come from overseas). There could, then be an awful lot of clothing invisibly in the system that could be going to waste over the next few years.

With prices for our used textiles dropping, there's less incentive for businesses and charities to collect in the first place. The boom in the export market that began in 2010 has flatlined, again increasing the likelihood that potential renewables could just go straight in the bin. Recycling on an industrial scale is still in its infancy. The complex job of disassembling modern clothing, which is very often a mix of different fabrics and finishes, doesn't make things any easier. But an increase in this sort of recycling is really the only way to head off a potentially catastrophic spike in the amount of textiles we send to landfill every year.

Generally, a step change is needed in the way we view our clothes. There needs to be a big increase in re-use in both domestic and foreign markets, and a push to development of new techniques, including a wider take up of notions like closed-loop recycling.

The WRAP report concludes with the admission that there are tough challenges ahead for the sector. Our View: clothes recycling is a lot trickier than it sounds, and depending primarily on export markets to keep our unwanted garments out of landfill was always going to be a sticking plaster on a very big wound. It remains to be seen whether new technologies and forward thinking can dig us out of a hole before we bury ourselves in old clothing.


You can read the full report at this link.


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