Textile recycling FAQs

Alan Wheeler, Director of the Textile Recycling Association (TRA) answers your textile recycling questions

Textile recycling schemes have long been recognised as a quick and easy way to raise money, but in recent years the textile recycling industry has been falling into decline.

As a result, several schemes have been forced to make drastic changes to the way they work with schools – from the amount they pay out, to the items they collect, to the distance they are willing to travel. We put your queries to Alan Wheeler, Director of the Textile Recycling Association (TRA), to find out why, and how the industry is being affected.

A textile-recycling company that we’ve used for years has recently stopped taking collections in our area. Why are so many schemes downsizing?

The main reason we are seeing a retraction in the number of collections is a crash in the global market value of used clothing. A large quantity of used clothing in the UK is collected for sorting, then exported for sale in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. And while these countries have valuable markets for UK textile merchants, they are also vulnerable to fluctuations as a result of economic and political pressures.

Civil unrest across sub-Saharan Africa has restricted the movement of goods across the continent, and the war in Ukraine has had a big impact on the market, too.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa also caused problems in the devaluation of important African currencies, like the Ghanaian cedi and Kenyan shilling, as have the Russian rouble and Ukrainian hyrvnia.

The fact that the UK is planning to leave the European Union also muddies the water – where we previously had some clarity on where the market was heading, now we aren’t sure where things will end up. The UK is still signed up to 53 trade deals with countries outside the EU, but will have to renegotiate some agreements. The downside is this could take years, but there may also be an opportunity for the UK textile recycling industry to secure a much better deal.

The payments we receive for collections are half the amount we received a few years ago. Why are companies paying less?

Because the value of used clothing has decreased, the amount that recycling schemes can pay for collections has more than halved since 2013. Even though virtually all new clothing is created in China and Bangladesh, the perception is that British used clothes are more valuable than those from other European countries.

As a result of this and EU expansion in 2004, where we gained access to a big new market, we did see the value of British used clothing increase between 2005 and 2013. However, at the end of 2015 the British pound reached the end of a seven-year-high against the Euro, and used clothing from the Eurozone became even cheaper. Of all the collectors that were once members of the Textile Recycling Association, 23% are now out of business.

We are a new PTA and would like to raise money through textile recycling. Is it still worth setting this up?

Yes! Textile recycling is still a high-value commodity (albeit at a lower value than it was) and is still a good way to raise funds for many schools in most parts of the country. It might be more difficult to find a collector in your area, however, as most have cut back to cover fewer places, though some are still operating nationally.

For more information

Information correct as of 8 September 2016. Subscribe to PTA+ emails to receive any updates on changes to the UK textile recycling industry affecting PTAs.