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Textile glut fear as restrictions ease

Charities in the UK are concerned about an avalanche of unwanted clothing and other items when their High Street shops re-open in June as householders seek to get rid of items that have been stored for months.

Charity shops are major recipients for second-hand clothing but they have been closed in the UK since March during the Covid-19 lockdown. Many municipal recycling centres have also been closed. This combination has caused great concern across the textile recycling sector.

Robin Osterley, chief executive of the Charity Retail Association, told the BBC that shops are expecting to be ‘full to bursting’. The UK’s 11,000 charity shops raise almost £300m for good causes each year.

In early May, Alan Wheeler, director of the Textile Recycling Association (TRA), warned of ‘pent up demand and an influx of used clothing/textile donations once charity shops and recycling centres are re-opened’. Wheeler is worried that this issue, on top of supply chain problems such as some countries restricting imports of used clothing, will mean insufficient capacity in the UK. One consequence would be more materials going to landfill.

To support these fears, analysis by a UK furniture manufacturer has found that searches online for recycling centres has spiked in recent weeks. Sliding door wardrobe company Spaceslide found that in April, searches for ‘recycling centre’ increased 22% year-on-year, up from 90 500 per month to 110 000.

Searches for ‘council tips’ were also up, rising 50% to 3 600 monthly searches. In contrast, searches for ‘charity shop’ dropped by 87%, falling from 110 000 in April 2019 to 14 800 this April. 

Spaceslide’s commercial manager Will Gough commented: ‘Hopefully, UK households can hang on to their useable items for a short while longer to avoid creating non-essential waste.

Charities benefit hugely from selling the items they receive and with money tighter than ever for many, holding off on your trip to the recycling centre could have a significant impact.’

Siân Pelleschi, owner of decluttering company Sorted!, offered this advice: ‘Firstly, look at repurposing an item in another way within your home. If this isn’t possible, try giving away items to passers-by. Make sure you label [them as being] free and keep the items on your property and not in the street.’

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