European collectors and sorters have only just begun to see the light at the end of coronavirus pandemic and it is fair to say that they are still feeling the effects of it, with continued uncertainty lying ahead. As with many industries, they are now having to deal with the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine is not only one of the biggest markets for used clothing in Eastern Europe but it also an important market for the best quality items. Many sorters selling such items into Ukraine are now having to look for alternative markets. This is not easy and there are consequences even for those who do not sell into that country, as their markets become more crowded.
Russia is also an important market and, with sanctions on the country tightening, this results in even more uncertainty in the Eastern European markets.
On the positive side, the African market is currently good with demand for products holding up. Recycling grades are moving but, as always, these are being sold on at such low values that by the time collection, sorting and other warehousing costs are taken into consideration, the sorters have lost a few hundred Euros on each tonne of recycling grade collected.
Another issue that continues to be highlighted is how the shift in the way we work is affecting the style, value and quality of the clothing that we buy and eventually pass on for second hand use. With people going into offices less often, and face-to face meetings largely replaced by video calls, fewer business suits are being purchased and worn. On the other hand, consumption of casual wear, often of lower quality, is increasing.
So is this shift towards consuming more casual fast fashion leading to a current glut on the market? That is not clear if some reports of shortages in originals are true, with values rising at the same time. A possible explanation from this seemingly illogical position is that, as the drive towards collecting more clothing for reuse and recycling gathers pace (as part of a drive towards delivering a more sustainable fashion economy), the global sorting capacity has increased.
Furthermore, due to the rising cost of living, people may be reducing their consumption of new clothing and textile products and therefore ultimately putting fewer out as used products for collection and processing.
Wider questions are also being asked about whether the circular economy is the new paradigm, whether sorting infrastructure equipped for recycling by material, as opposed to reusable garment type, will be required; which has the value and should be kept at the top of the waste hierarchy.
There is a lot to discuss.
China tackles textiles
China has unveiled guidelines to boost its capability for recycling used textiles. China produces about half of the world’s fibre and aims to recycle a quarter of its textile waste and use it to produce two million tonnes of recycled fibre annually by 2025.
About one-fifth of the roughly 22 million tonnes of textile waste generated in the country in 2020 was recycled and China produced 1.5 million tonnes of recycled fibre that year.
China Daily reports that the plans were published in a document unveiled by the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planner, and the ministries of industry and information technology, and commerce.
The document set out how, by 2030, ‘a relatively complete system for textile waste recycling’ will have been established. By then, China will be able to recycle 30% of its textile waste and produce three million tonnes of recycled fibre per year. As well as improving the network for collecting textile waste, the guidelines also address problems hindering reuse and recycling.
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