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Developing the UK's Rag and Fibre Market

The UK has a rich history of making the most from waste textiles ever since the industrial revolution with the production of mungo and shoddy from waste clothes and discarded fabrics from the textile mills. Though the mills have all but gone from the UK, there remains a vibrant re-use and recycling market for textiles, with an industry of collectors, sorters, exporters and fibre recyclers.

The sale of second hand clothing is the real value driver behind the industry, earning companies over £1,000 per tonne on average. Clothing donated to charities is collected, sorted and graded before being sent to re-use demand markets across the world. This industry also feeds into the recycling textile markets, where the textiles not fit for re-use are either cut into shreds, turned into industrial wipers and cleaning cloths, or sent for flocking.

However, though the export price for re-use markets continues to rise, so too has the price for unsorted collections from charity shops, and the cost of acquiring the original unsorted feedstock is starting to take its toll on the industry. The UK Textile Recycling Association revealed that more than 10% of the TRA had ceased trading within recent years as some textiles collectors could not afford to continue paying the prevailing market prices for unsorted collections.

Similarly, 17 of the UK's leading UK Textile Recycling & Rag Merchants are now in financial difficulty according to Plimsoll's latest Textile Recycling & Rag Merchants market report, while 12 companies continue to sell at a loss for the second year running, driving the average profit margin in the industry to 0.8%.

The stability of this industry has environmental ramifications, as the companies involved are responsible for diverting over 659,000 tonnes of the estimated 1,137,000t of clothing, shoes and household textiles sent to landfill every year.

AP Benson were recently tasked by the Waste & Resources Action Plan (WRAP) to identify steps required to develop the rag and fibre market in the UK. The intention of this work is to generate feasible and viable action plans which will aid the growth and development of existing and new opportunities within the UK’s textile re-use and recycling industry.

AP Benson director Tom Girn stated, "We are delighted to have been selected for this project, and look forward to working with WRAP to use our understanding of the rag and fibre industry to create viable and feasible plans for this market."

WRAP is a not-for-profit company that help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.

Gerard Fannon: Junior Researcher

Posted on 1st July 2013

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