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Textile recycling

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Recycling symbol

Textiles comprise clothes, towels, bedding, curtains, tablecloths etc.  They're made of woven fabric - consisting of :

Textile recycling is a sizeable industry, employing thousands of people in the UK.

Textiles - sources and routes

Most of the textiles entering the second-hand market come from consumers.
People throw out textiles because :

Consumers dispose of the items by :

CharityBags is concerned with the second of these - the textiles which are given away.  These enter the second-hand market via :

  1. Charity shops - see section below
  2. Re-use/recycling centres - eg at supermarkets and local council sites.
    The textiles and/or the profits go to :
    • charities or
    • commerce or
    • a partnership between the two sectors.
  3. House-to-house collections (charitable and commercial).

See the page on Choosing the best way to donate your clothes for details.

Now let's look at 1, 2 and 3 above in more detail.  We'll deal with 2 and 3 first, then deal with 1 (charity shops).

Textiles given to 2 above (=re-use/recycling centres) and 3 above (=house-to-house collections) go to :

Unfortunately, often it's unclear which of these three the textiles go to - and what money (if any) goes to charity.


Below:  Clothing bank containers (reputable charities - 'Hope' and Barnardo's)
Rushmere shopping centre, Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland

Clothes recycling containers at Rushmere shopping centre, Craigavon, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland (wikimedia.org) [w800]

Charity shops

Charity shop (courtesy of Oxfam)
Charity shop at dusk

Sources - You can see from the text above that the textiles going to charity shops come from three sources :

  1. items taken direct to charity shops by the public (=1 above)
  2. items donated at certain re-use/recycling centres - and then taken to charity shops
  3. items donated to certain house-to-house collections - and then taken to charity shops.

Sorting and rejects - The items arriving at charity shops vary in quality and saleability.  Staff pick over the goods, retaining the better items for sale in the shops, and rejecting the rest.  The rejects are sold to the second-hand market (or even scrapped if they're in very poor condition).

Reasons for rejection include :

Textile recycling companies

Sorting - The items received are picked over, and sorted into categories :

Sorting of textiles is a skilled and labour-intensive task.

The growth in imports of cheap new clothing from the Far East (eg China) has led to problems with recycling.  Many of the goods deteriorate in use more quickly than 'traditional' clothing.  This means there's a higher proportion of items which are unfit for re-use (for example due to stitching coming apart or buttons coming off).

Price of textiles


xStatistics:The price fetched by second-hand textiles fluctuates (in a similar way to other commodities such as oil, wheat and coffee).  As at mid-2013, virgin clothes (see definition below) were fetching just over £1,000 per tonne.  This was three times the price of seven years before.

This rise has caused an increase in the number of commercial collectors in the UK (including misleading and bogus 'charitable' collectors).  It's also led to an increase in the theft of bags left out for house-to-house collections.

'Virgin clothes' means they're as-donated, unsorted.  However, once they've been picked over by charity shops (and the best items removed), the remaining items fetch a lower price.

Charities - When the second-hand value of textiles rises, the effect on charities is mixed :

The Textile Recycling Association (TRA)

Website:  www.textile-recycling.org.uk  

Textile Recycling Association logo  Textile Recycling Association logo

Based in Maidstone (Kent), it's the trade association in the UK for textile recycling companies.  Members include:  L M Barry & Co, I & G Cohen Ltd, Nathan's Wastesavers Ltd and Terimpex Ltd.

Some larger charities (with charity shops) are members of the Association.

Textile recycling - related pages

Recycling symbol