Textile recyclers have warned that parts of the industry could collapse as supply reduces domestically and demand from across the world falls.
This comes as two recycling trade bodies release a joint statement expressing concern about the restrictions imposed by some countries to stop the import of second hand clothing on the presumption that material may be contaminated with the coronavirus.
In the UK, a number of textile recyclers closed once the lockdown measures were introduced. Charity shops, which are major suppliers of used textiles, also closed.
While some trade is continuing from some textile banks, there is disruption with collectors and charities asking the public not to use banks. There are also numerous reports of the public still placing material at or alongside the banks, despite notices saying they are not in use.
Some recyclers have said they are unable to collect it. One told letsrecycle.com: “We have no space to store anymore and we can’t sort it because of possible health risks to our employees. Also there is little point collecting and sorting it as no one wants it.”
One of the largest collectors from textile banks told letsrecycle.com that they are still collecting from a few clients, but at a much reduced rate, and all material is being stored as there are currently no end markets.
No recycler reported to be paying for material.
Another said the company has had to temporarily close and is “deeply concerned” for many in in the industry.
The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) and the European recycling association,Euric, issued a statement yesterday (20 April) warning of problems in the industry.
The two bodies said that while some scientists have said the virus can live for up to three days on various textiles, it is unlikely to impact many workers.
“While we entirely understand that governments want to protect their workers , it is unlikely that they can get infected by handling these materials and goods in trade due to the low environmental stability of COVID-19 and the average journey time of sea freight from Europe to end markets in Africa or Asia,” the statement said.
It added: “Based on the evidence that is currently available it is very unlikely that exported used clothing could transmit COVID-19. Nevertheless, as an added precaution we recommend that everybody who purchases used clothing washes the garment with soap and water before wearing it for the first time. Safety measures for workers such as social distancing applicable in the country of destination shall also be observed to limit the risk of contamination between workers.”
There are some recyclers reporting they are collecting from donations outside charity shops, but are doing so for free.
This comes amid a warning from the charity retail sector that donations are considered as fly-tipping, and have approached local authorities for help in clearing them as such while shops are closed.
The Charity Retail Association urged the public to hold onto their donations until charity shops are able to reopen for businesses and to avoid leaving items outside of closed shops or already full donation banks.
Robin Osterley, chief executive of the Charity Retail Association, said: “charity shops are so grateful that people are setting aside quality pre-loved items in this trying time, and they will benefit greatly once the time comes for them to reopen.
“Shops are currently closed and unable to take in donations, so please don’t leave donations on door steps to be ruined by weather, animals, or stolen.”
The difficulties domestically have been worsened by a huge reduction in demand from overseas as a result of lockdown restrictions.
More than a third of the world is under some form of lockdown, which recyclers have said has led to less end markets for materials.
The majority of clothes collected in the UK are exported to be re-worn in countries, with the largest markets in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
“The quality we are getting is to its lowest of standard in history”
“End markets in Africa are closed, our customers do not want to load our material,” one recycler said to letsrecycle.com.
They added that there are considerable issues within the Pakistan markets due to increased shipping costs and government interventions, reported before the outbreak, have also made this difficult.
Recyclers have also said that Eastern European and domestic markets have completely shut down because of the lockdown and warehouses are now “full and not accepting orders”.
Tosh Vyas, managing diector of Fortune Eximports, said to letsrecycle.com that while some recyclers are servicing textile banks, the quality is poor.
“To service textile banks, the goods what we are getting is not a full load and resulting collectors losing money. In this time of lock down, members of the public have no access to shopping in the mall or high street, hence the quality we are getting is to its lowest of standard in history.”
Mr Vyas added: “An increase in Covid19 related cases in Africa and countries under lockdown with additional requirement is forcing them to incur more costs towards incoming goods is only mounting the problems to the used clothing industry.
“The Pakistan market has been taking approximately 40% of processed and graded used clothing completely for free.
“In such unusual situation in unprecedented time, although the industry is closed, clients are requesting processors like us to bear the cost of freight as well from here on.
“With fixed overheads apart from wages still stays fixed. I am afraid, future for used clothing looks challenging”.