New research from WRAP suggests it’s time to unlock the potential economic value of discarded textiles thrown out by consumers for waste collection.
The new report reveals that consumers are throwing out almost one million tonnes of textiles, mainly clothes, shoes and linens like bedding and curtains, every year. But these unwanted items, which currently end up in landfill, could be re-used or recycled – and generate millions of pounds.
“In 2010, we threw out an estimated £238m-worth of textiles for waste collection and sent to landfill, yet all of this could have been re-used, recycled or sent for energy recovery,” said WRAP director Marcus Gover.
“If we were to recover just 10% of that household textile waste, we could potentially unlock revenues of around £24m. If we were to increase this figure to match what has already been achieved in recycling and re-use of other household waste materials, this amount could be even higher.
“It’s true that we do recycle and re-use a lot more of our unwanted textile items now than in the past, but this mainly comprises clothing, and our latest research shows how much more there is still to be done.
“We know that there’s both infrastructure and reprocessing capacity out there, so there’s a challenge here to make sure people are aware, not only of the implications of sending textiles to landfill, but also of the different collection opportunities available for all unwanted textiles – and not just clothes.”
Textiles flow and market development opportunities in the UK is a comprehensive study of textiles flows in the UK. As well as highlighting the potential value in household textile waste, it also emphasises the opportunities to increase mattress recovery, and rag and fibre recycling from discarded carpets, and examines both new recycling and potential market opportunities.
“Carpet recycling is growing fast from a very low starting point, and there are already a number of innovative methods and end markets for the recycled material, but further development of these is needed to ensure recycling is commercially viable,” said Marcus.
“Mattress recovery is more difficult, but with the market price of steel steadily rising, it’s an area of growing interest and value – some mattresses contain as much as 50% steel. In 2010, an estimated 84,500 tonnes of steel alone could have been recovered.”
WRAP is also launching three other related reports as part of its work on textiles. These cover commercial sources of clothing for re-use and recycling, as well as household.
The Branded Workwear Report reveals that only 10% of no-longer-required work clothing is currently recycled or re-used and suggests the steps that could be taken to reduce waste and encourage re-use.
Impact of Textile Feedstock Source on Value assesses the impact that differing sources of recovered textiles has on the quality, and the subsequent value, of those textiles within the UK re-use and recycling markets. The results from the WRAP trials will help the textile recycling sector identify which sources generate the highest value returns in existing and new markets.
The third report investigates the economic and environmental impacts of washing and drying contaminated textiles for re-use and recycling markets.
At the same time, WRAP is launching new guidance to help local authorities and textiles collectors increase re-use and recycling, and reduce the amount of textiles being disposed of in residual waste. It provides practical advice and examples of existing good practice for kerbside textile collection services, bring banks (where members of the public can bring item for re-use and recycling), and community re-use initiatives.
It also offers advice on how to communicate textile re-use and recycling services to the public.
“If you consider the findings of this latest research into textiles and factor in the results of our Valuing our Clothes report which we issued in July, it’s clear that the whole area of textiles re-use and recycling offers enormous potential,” said Marcus.
“What our research demonstrates is that there are real opportunities here for organisations and individuals to reduce our carbon footprint by diverting textiles from landfill and extracting the maximum financial end economic benefits available from smarter re-use and recycling.
“WRAP’s role isn’t just about providing the sound research that spotlights the best areas for focus. It’s also about taking steps to help organisations tap into this potential. The new guidance we’re launching is just part of that work.”
WRAP is now planning to look in detail at the types of recycling technologies that exist, and their commercial viability.
“We’ll also be researching the global rag and fibre market with a view to identifying ways of growing existing and developing new markets for all the materials identified in our textiles flow report,” added Marcus.