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Diverting textiles from landfill the solution to UK's throwaway society?

Sandy Dhesi
Oct 25, 2013

Textile waste being sent to landfill is rising while all other materials are reducing. What can be done about this? The UK is wasting millions of pounds each year by sending old, recyclable and re-usable textiles to landfill. Without the introduction of bans, landfill will always be "the default option”.


Research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has discovered that, despite the fact that there is spare capacity in textile recycling plants, more than two-thirds of textile waste in Britain is sent to landfill. This equates to around 1.4 million tonnes of material. Recovering and recycling just 10 per cent of the waste currently sent to landfill could generate revenues of around £23.8 million a year. The reports also found there was a gap in the market for businesses that can recycle or re-use carpet and mattress materials. In particular, carpet recycling was revealed as an emerging market, while around 370,000 tonnes of carpet is still being sent to landfill each year.


WRAP’s research demonstrates that there are opportunities here for organisations and individuals to ‘reduce carbon footprints by diverting textiles from landfill and extracting the maximum financial end economic benefits available from smarter re-use and recycling’.


The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), a UK clothing industry initiative which aims to rid us of our “throwaway fashion” culture, has a voluntary action plan which hasn’t set targets on achieving industry-wide sustainability. ‘Nor does it have any real teeth in terms of imposing penalties for those that do not fulfil their commitments. So could, as some industry commentators have suggested, a worsening economic climate actually lead to some of these actions and good intentions being downgraded or not fulfilled at all?’


It is clear that the infrastructure and reprocessing capacity is available; therefore, should the Government continue efforts to make people aware not only of the implications of sending textiles to landfill, but also of the different collection opportunities available for all unwanted textiles? Or should textiles simply be banned from being sent to landfill?


The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates that greater resource efficiency could save UK businesses billions of pounds a year, but has so far stopped short of extending landfill bans, as it believes for the first time we are recycling, composting or re-using more waste than we are sending to landfill. Equally, it is apparent that we can do more which gives reason for Defra to review the case for restrictions on sending textiles to landfill sooner rather than later.

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