Global used clothing industry team up to ‘dispel myths’ about textile recycling

They are seeking to ‘set the record straight’ and strongly encourage the world to consume used clothing and textiles

The Big Zero report

Four associations involved in the global used clothing industry have teamed up to “dispel myths” and “set the record straight” about textile recycling.

They say the industry is working towards a circular economy by offering sustainable solutions for used textiles that will help reduce the environmental impacts caused by the global fashion industry.

The associations – including the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART), the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) – Textiles, Textile Recycling Association (TRA) and the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) – Textile Division – believe there is a “common misconception” that secondhand clothing exported to developing countries partially ends up being discarded right away.

They add the clothing not sold directly in the market gets passed down the supply chain and ends up selling in other smaller markets throughout the region, suggesting that no profitable business will spend money on packing, shipping and distributing a product only to have it end up in landfill.

The associations say the used clothing industry is growing right now “in response to the increasing demand” for affordable products and environmentally-conscious consumers and add in many cases, the used garments are also “higher quality and last longer” than cheaper new products.

Jackie King, Executive Director of SMART said: “Textile reuse and recycling is the solution, not the problem. Secondhand clothing exported to countries is sorted and graded for customer needs or preferences.

“Suppliers do not ship waste; it is not cost-effective. Customers demand quality clothing for resale, not waste; the semantics of ‘waste’ really means what they couldn’t sell. The reality is if clothing doesn’t sell, it is often shipped to other worldwide markets for resale or recycling – not thrown away.”

The associations cite an extensive study conducted by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya in April 2021 on the used clothing industry and its contributions to the Kenyan economy.

It found the used clothing industry directly employs around two million people, in addition to thousands of jobs created and supported in ancillary sectors, such as the transportation industry.

In addition, 91.5% of households in Kenya are said to purchase secondhand clothes – for every 100 used garments bought, it means 60 – 85 new garments are displaced, which results in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the use of toxins that would have been caused by the production of new textiles.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Manpower Survey, mitumba traders fall under the secondhand clothes and footwear industry and make up an estimated 10% of the extended labour force, which helps improve standards of living for two million people and reduces poverty levels.

Alan Wheeler, Chief Executive Officer at the UK’s Textile Recycling Association adds: “The used clothing industry will continue to underpin the viability of circular business models for decades to come and supplying used clothing to markets and people wherever they are in the world will be fundamental to achieving the maximum environmental benefits as well as social and economic benefits.”

If you enjoyed this story you can sign up to our weekly email for Energy Live News – and if you’re interested in hearing more about the journey to net zero by 2050, you can also sign up to the future Net Zero newsletter. 

Latest Podcast