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Reused and recycled textiles offer sustainable future, says TRA

Clothing recyclers have emphasised the sustainable nature of their industry, quoting research indicating the sale of 100 used garments displaces 60 new items of clothing. They are urging consumers to buy few, better clothes and to ensure they send unwanted items to recycling and reuse.

The UK’s Textile Recycling Association (TRA) says the global fashion supply chain is estimated to account for around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the aviation and maritime industry combined. It is also the fourth most impactful industry on the environment and is responsible for around 20% of all global freshwater pollution incidents.

However, TRA insists that despite being tiny in comparison to the global fashion industry, the global used clothing sector helps to reduce many of these impacts. It quotes research by the University of Kogakuin in Japan and others estimating the used clothing industry reduces carbon emissions of clothing by 60%. Another report, from QSA Partners suggests that for every 100 used garments sold globally displaces the sale of 60 new garments.

TRA is concerned to counter recent media reports that used clothing from the UK and other developed economies is sent to landfill in Africa and elsewhere. ’Goods collected by TRA members typically have their items put through a detailed sorting process that removes all contamination and separates out the re-use and recycling grades,’ it says.

‘Quality re-useable items are typically sorted into approximately 120 different grades to be sold on. The buyers of these grades then arrange for the onward shipment of clothing into their own countries.’

TRA chief executive Alan Wheeler maintains the used clothing industry is by far the most sustainable part of the global clothing supply chain. ‘With the UN Climate Change Conference just weeks away and climate change rightfully at the forefront of the agenda, we urge the public to buy less new clothing and better quality, buy more second hand and to ensure all unwanted items as sent for reuse and recycling,’ he says.

In the UK, approximately one million tonnes of new clothing are bought each year with around 620 000 tonnes collected for reuse and recycling. The worldwide ratio is significantly less, according to Wheeler: ‘Various recent estimates suggest that the global fashion industry produces around 100 billion new garments every year but only around 10 billion used garments are traded annually by the used textiles industry.’

‘This is only about 10% of all items put on the market. A small additional percentage will get second lives through charity shops, internet sales and more informal routes. But the vast majority of clothes will be chucked in the bin by their first and only owner. This is a travesty.’

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