UK leading the solution on clothing recycling, say industry chiefs

28th January 2022

The UK is leading the solution to clothing re-use and recycling, say textile industry chiefs, and we can all play a vital role.

Responding to recent reports that environment ministers in Chile are calling for a stop to unsold clothing being dumped in the Atacama desert, the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) – which represents collectors, graders and processors of used clothing and textiles across the country – has said that the UK market is not the problem.

“We only supply quality, re-usable clothing to customers where there is demand, such as Africa and Eastern Europe, where the market is a vital part of the local economy,” said Alan Wheeler, Chief Executive of the Textile Recycling Association.

“In Chile, the latest UN data figures show that 24 tonnes of used clothing imported, came from the UK. That represents just one container load. To put that in context, there are one million tonnes of used clothing generated in the UK each year. This would amount to 38.5 thousand container loads. The UK accounts for less than point one per cent of global imports to Chile.

“But the reports rightly highlight a major problem there and in other parts of the world, caused by the huge global demand for fast fashion and that is where the Textile Recycling Association and its members across the UK are helping to drive vital change.

“What is so important is that people don’t look at these reports and think – why should I bother donating my used clothing to charity. The UK has a reputation for having some of the best quality used clothing in the world and we supply to countries where there is great demand for resale.

“Where the garments are not suitable for those markets there is an established market for recycling – as mattress filling , car upholstery and insulation materials.

“Do make sure that the charity shop you take your clothing to or the recycling bin you use in your local car park uses TRA collectors and sorters – just ask in the shop or look out for the TRA logo. There is a full list of members on our website.

“And, of course, we need to substantially reduce the amount of clothing we buy in the first place; the TRA is driving support for the designers and manufacturers who put durability and sustainability first. There is a growing call from consumers for better quality products which have a longer lifespan and are easier to recycle. We need to meet that demand.

“New business models, such as eco-designed clothing and clothing rental are also making a positive impact. We can all play a vital role and the UK is very much leading the way.”

  • As members of the Textiles 2030 initiative from UK charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) the TRA is playing a vital advisory role in accelerating the fashion and textile industry’s move to sustainability and a circular economy.
  • Working with manufacturers and retailers across the UK the TRA is calling for re-use and recycling to be embedded in every stage of clothing design and the production process, encouraging the use of sustainable fibres and higher quality clothing which lasts longer. 
  • The TRA has also called on the Government to fast-track the fashion and textile industry as part of its Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme and is playing a key part in the current consultation process.