Time to unlock value of textile waste, says WRAP
14 September 2012
Millions of pounds are being lost each year because consumers are sending more than one million tonnes of textiles to landfill, according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
The comments came as the government-funded resource efficiency body published four studies and one piece of guidance which look at the potential opportunities in textile recycling and the pros and cons of various collection methods.
The research looks at how to capture more textiles for recycling, opportunities for recycling items such as corporate workwear and carpets and mattresses, and, the business case for washing and drying contaminated textiles. Meanwhile the guidance document offers advice for local authorities and textile collectors on how to collect textiles and communicate effectively.
The publication of the documents comes just two months after WRAP published research on ‘Valuing our clothes’, which looked at the environmental impacts of clothing in particular (see letsrecycle.com story).
The research has been carried out as part of ongoing work under Defra’s Sustainable Clothing Roadmap.
WRAP director Marcus Gover said: “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.
“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.”
Mr Gover added that while a lot of clothing is currently reused and recycled, there are opportunities to recycle non-clothing textiles as well which many people are not aware of.
The full list of documents include:
- UK Textile Product Flows and Market Opportunities
- The Impact of Textile Feedstock on Value
- Washing and Drying Contaminated Textile Trails
- Corporate work wear arisings and recovery opportunities
- Textile collection guidance
‘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 Mr Gover.
“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.”
The other three studies 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.
Mr Gover said: “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.”
“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 Mr Gover.
Commenting on the publication, Alan Wheeler, national liaison manager at the Textile Recycling Association (TRA), said: “We are delighted with the work that is being undertaken through the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap and these publications represent a significant milestone. We look forward to working with WRAP, local authorities, charities and other stakeholders and to take forward many of the key recommendations made in order to divert an increasing amount of clothing and textiles away from the waste stream.”
The comments came as the TRA officially launched a new Code of Practice.The code sets standards which the TRA members are expected to meet when they undertake textile collections. It outlines that TRA members are required to uphold all legal obligations, with particular reference to those who engage in charitable fundraising, who need to be transparent about who is collecting and how a charity benefits.
Ross Barry, president of the TRA, said: “The TRA has been working diligently to ensure that its members have been operating to the standards the public and other stakeholders should expect of those engaged in used clothing collections, and the introduction of this code is just the next part of this process.”