Textile Recycling Association welcomes research from Nordic countries

Textile Recycling Association welcomes research from Nordic Countries which concludes that exports of used clothing give net economic, environmental and social benefits.

A new report just released by the Nordic Council of Ministers looked at whether used clothing donated by the public in their countries is genuinely supporting the circular economy through reuse and recycling and whether any negative economic and social impacts that are sometimes cited against the trade, stand up to independent scrutiny.

One of the reports key conclusions casts significant doubt on claims made by some that used clothing imports are an important factor in the decline of African textile production, and asserts that the reasons are much more nuanced.

The decline in textile production may have happened even without the popularity of used clothing imports and the report states that the ageing and inefficient domestic industries in much of Africa have been unable to compete with cheap production in Asia as trade barriers were progressively dismantled during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Both used and new textile imports have increased rapidly since then across sub-Saharan Africa. In the absence of used textile imports the gap would most likely be filled by additional imports of cheap new textiles from Asia.

Alan Wheeler – Director of the Textile Recycling Association said:

“It is important to appreciate that the used clothing industry operates in a similar manner throughout Western Europe and most clothing collected in this global region ends up being exported to similar markets in other parts of the world. So it is reasonable to assert that the conclusions drawn from this report can be applied to a significant extend to exports of used clothing from the UK. Although I would welcome some detailed research on British exports, which I am confident would confirm this.”

Mr Wheeler then went on to say “It is really good that this independent research has concluded what we already knew. Blaming used clothing imports and citing them as the main reason as to why some African textile producers are struggling is a red herring. The abolition of the Multi-Fibre Agreement by the World Trade Organisation in 2005 was the death-knell for many textile producers in this region and other parts of the world. Within months of this happening exports of new clothing from China doubled and many African producers were simply not able to cope.”

“One crucial finding that emerged is that for once economics and environmental benefits go hand-in-hand” says project team leader David Watson, PlanMiljø. “The sorting companies have such tight margins that every single fraction that can be sold for reuse, is sold for reuse, and anything else that can be recycled, is recycled. Even the plastic bags that the textiles arrive in. Otherwise they just wouldn’t be able to pay for the sorting activities.”

In other words, only good quality re-useable clothing is exported to Africa, whilst recycling grades are processed into brand new products. This should put to rest any misunderstanding that Africans are sold low quality low grade clothing. This is simply not the case.

Yvonne Augustsson, Nordic Council of Minister’s coordinator for the project said “The findings of this report is good news. It means that people can donate their used clothing to charity without worrying that it is doing harm”.


Further information about the Nordic Council of Ministers can be found at: https://www.norden.org/en/nordic-council-of-ministers