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International used clothing markets stifled

International markets for used clothing are closed because of the direct ban on imports, lockdown measures or through other extraneous reasons, according to the UK’s Textile Recycling Association (TRA). Director Alan Wheeler also reports that because of the Covid-19 pandemic the value of goods collected through textile banks in the UK has plummeted.

Wheeler says the biggest challenge for his members is in sub-Saharan Africa which, by value, is the world’s biggest market for used clothing. The two biggest markets for the UK are Kenya and Ghana and both are causing severe problems for the TRA.

The Bureau of International Recycling and the European Recycling Industries Confederation have jointly complained about a ban in Kenya on imported used clothing, with the Government citing it as a potential conduit for the Covid-19 virus. The American trade association SMART has also raised concerns.

‘The available evidence suggests that the virus does not stay alive on porous materials such as textiles for a sufficiently long time for it to present a threat,’ Wheeler maintains. ‘By the time the used clothing has travelled from Europe to Africa any virus that might have been present at the start of the journey will have died. However, the ban is in place and without it being lifted this will cause a major problem on the export markets.’

Official obstacles

In Ghana, he reports, the market is at a standstill because of the restrictions during their lockdown preventing the necessary movement of goods.

‘The report suggests that the lack of being classified as essential workers is a barrier but also payments from here (and elsewhere) are not forthcoming because importers are not able to sell their goods on, simply because the end markets have completely shrunk or have completely closed.’

Wheeler notes that although Africa is the biggest market by value, Pakistan is the single biggest market for UK exporters in terms of tonnage and it takes a greater percentage of the lower value items. Shortly before Covid-19 really hit, the Pakistani authorities imposed a much tighter inspection regime because some importers of used electrical goods were quoting used clothing/textiles import codes to avoid import duties. Although he accepts it was right of the authorities to tackle fraud, Wheeler says the TRA wants the UK government to liaise with the Pakistani authorities to ensure that legitimate imports of used clothing/textiles are subject to proportionate and reasonable checks.

British blight

In the UK, no significant used textile sorting or warehousing operations are currently taking place and there is only limited servicing of collections. The TRA predicts pent up demand and a jump in used clothing/textile donations once charity shops and recycling sites are re-opened. ‘Unless the export markets are open, UK merchants may well have to cease collection operations simply due to the volumes collected and lack of storage facility,’ Wheeler warns.

He points out that since the lockdown started, the value of goods collected through textile banks has plummeted. ‘Operators of household waste recycling centres, local authorities and charities must understand that they may not get any income at all through banks and a gate fee could be introduced. Some other European countries have already introduced a collection fee, with merchants pulling only high value reuse grades and being offered low rates to divert recycling grades to energy from waste incineration.’

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