In 2017, the focal point for our Division was that the six countries making up the East African Community were considering an outright ban on imports of used clothes, shoes and other leather products. In 2018, there was a fresh challenge as the Bulgarian Ministry of the Environment & Water proposed a tax or fee on imported second-hand clothing. BIR responded by organising a workshop at our London Convention last October that highlighted the dangers of such a move, including the potential closure of sorting companies in Bulgaria owing to the impact of the associated direct costs on their businesses’ already-fragile margins.
Subsequently, BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley attended a meeting in Sofia to argue that a tax or fee of this nature would harm domestic consumers. At the same time, he said, the Bulgarian government would not meet the recycling targets for textiles set down in the revised Waste Framework Directive and damage would be done to the Circular Economy in other EU Member States.
These events clearly illustrate the diligence and flexibility required by BIR to monitor and respond to the broad range of issues emerging around the world that have the potential to affect our day-to-day business activities. As we have learned from experience, flawed ideas will often spread unless detailed counter-arguments are mounted by experts in the field. And in the case of textiles recycling, that means us.
Such challenges add to that of running a successful business in often difficult conditions. As we learned in London, much of 2018 was characterised by an excess supply of originals in Western Europe and by an inability among collectors to place all their goods – especially those of lower quality – at sustainable prices. The export market offered some respite but, here too, problems were not hard to find with some of the established African markets, for example, increasingly vulnerable to China’s influence.
Despite its importance in social, economic and environmental terms, our trade cannot escape the impact of macro-economic developments; in 2019, therefore, we can expect as yet unknowable repercussions from Brexit. Already, UK collection and sorting companies are struggling to recruit adequate numbers of migrant workers who have helped form the bedrock of the country’s textiles recycling sector. Many UK businesses have already halted sorting operations in favour of collecting and exporting unsorted clothing, much of it ending up in Continental Europe.
A theme running through all the discussions at our London and Barcelona Conventions last year was the pre-eminent need to safeguard the quality of collected textiles so as to protect the hierarchy of material treatment that places reuse firmly at the top. Only in this way can our sector maximise its economic and environmental contribution. At the same time, of course, we must also look for the best ways to derive maximum value from the material for which reuse is not possible.
In this context, our meetings last year provided reassurance that some excellent research minds are devoting their blue-sky thinking to potential means of boosting textiles recycling. In Barcelona, Valérie Boiten and Dimitris Moutousidis provided delegates with an insight into the Resyntex project using industrial symbiosis to produce secondary raw materials from unwearable textile waste.
And in London, David Watson of Denmark-based PlanMiljø APS highlighted research showing that costs can be substantially reduced by combining collections of textiles with those of other dry streams such as paper. He also made another extremely important point: that targeted communication with the public yields better collection results. For example, the Swedish city of Gothenburg undertook well-publicised collections in multi-apartment waste areas with an emphasis on worn-out textiles, leading to a twofold increase in collection rates.
As an industry, direct communication with members of the public is absolutely essential if we are to drive home the message that all used textiles – irrespective of wear or quality – can be deposited into a collection system. Such communication is also vital for reinforcing our credentials as the public’s expert ally in the push for a sustainable solution to used textiles.
by Mehdi Zerroug
President Textiles Division 2014-2018
PRESIDENT TEXTILES DIVISION
Texaid – TextilverwertungsAG (CHE)
Today, clothing does not simply answer a practical need; fashion has become a form of self-expression and the sheer volume and variety of textile products available on the market have reached unprecedented levels. The global apparel market alone is already worth more than US$ 1.3 trillion per year and the figure is continuing to rise; indeed, the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report from Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group and Sustainable Apparel Coalition projects that, by the year 2030, global apparel consumption could have leapt by a further 63% to 102 million tonnes.
But textiles are not used just for clothes; they are also in our homes, hospitals, workplaces and vehicles - in the form of cleaning materials, upholstery, leisure equipment and so on. Overall, textile production is a major contributor to climate change and produces an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. According to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee report “Fixing Fashion”, this is more than the total produced by international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Textile production also entails substantial resource use: for example, to produce 1 kg of cotton takes between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of water. More alarmingly, the World Bank reckons 20% of global water pollution is caused by textile processing, making it the second biggest polluter of freshwater resources on the planet.
FACING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
Despite the positive impact clothing and textiles recycling could have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental issues, many consumers do not realize to what extent their household textiles can be recycled, with the result that a significant proportion still ends up in landfills. At a recent BIR Convention, it was claimed that low recycling rates for used textiles represent a worldwide problem, with current rates estimated at 26% in Europe, 15% in China and 12% in the USA. Within Europe, the collection rates vary hugely from country to country: a report from the European Clothing Action Plan on used textile collections within cities has looked at separate collection rates as a share of quantities on the market and has listed estimates of 75% for Germany and 44% for Denmark, dropping to 30-40% for France, the Netherlands and the UK, and as low as 11% for Italy.
Against this backdrop, BIR and the textiles recycling industry as a whole have been underlining the recyclability of almost every form of used textile. BIR Conventions have also provided a platform to highlight latest research designed to maximise recycling rates - not only through reuse but also, for example, through chemical and biological recycling. Most recently, these global gatherings have showcased practical solutions to convert blended textiles into new fabrics and yarns, as well as a dry upcycling process (housed within a standard shipping container) that completes the entire garment-to-garment recycling chain - from sanitization and fibre opening to spinning and knitting - in a period of four hours to two days.
BENEFITS OF RECYCLING
The recovery and recycling of textiles provide both environmental and economic benefits by:
Reducing the need for landfill space. Certain synthetic fibre products do not decompose, while natural fibre such as wool does decompose but produces methane which contributes to global warming.
Reducing pressure on virgin resources. This includes materials traditionally used in textiles such as cotton and wool, as well as oil and other chemicals employed to produce synthetic fibres.
Reducing water and energy consumption.
Reducing demand for dyes and fixing agents. This, in turn, minimizes the problems caused by their use and manufacture.
APPLICATIONS & RECYCLING FACTS