Researching the UK Rag and Fibre Supply and Demand markets

Textiles (Clothing, Shoes, Household items, Mattresses, and Carpets) have been designated a ‘priority stream’ for resource efficiency in each of the UK regions as they have a large impact on the environment. Post-consumer textiles make up a sizeable proportion of the UK waste stream – of the 2,725kt of textiles consumed in the UK market in 2010 only 24% were collected for re-use and recycling, highlighting a clear opportunity for the UK to collect, reuse and recycle more textiles.

However, for this to be happen there needs to be a greater understanding of the affects of supply and demand on this trade. For example, the journey that unwanted clothes make across the world is staggering. From the UK to Eastern Europe and then on to West Africa and Asia, exported second-hand clothing moves between hemispheres and continents as each industry in each country tries to derive value from the West’s waste. By looking at export statistics for UK, Europe and other nations we can gauge an idea of the weight and costs of this global flow of material. However, trying to capture a real sense of which businesses need which type, colour, quality and quantity of specific materials is a difficult undertaking.

Closer to home, the UK has a number of end markets for post-consumer textiles. Clothing recyclers sort out the overly worn clothing to be cut into wiping cloths, whilst others are sold on to UK mattress manufacturers to be used as stuffing. Knitted or woven are "pulled" into the state of fibre for reuse by the automotive industry as seat stuffing; and the nylon and polypropylene fibres from old carpets can be recycled into sports surfaces and geotextiles.   

However, though these markets are mature, the majority are ‘low value’ for the textile recyclers while some are close to becoming saturated. The shrinking of viable end markets here in the UK does not bode well for attempts to increase the UK’s textile collection and recycling rate.

In order to better understand the supply and demand markets affecting the trade of rag and fibre, WRAP (the Waste Resource Action Programme) commissioned AP Benson to undertake a detailed study into the industry.  The purpose of the work was to provide a picture of global recycled textile rag and fibre markets and to utilise this knowledge to identify market development opportunities for recycled rag and fibre in the UK. The output from this study will help inform the WRAP and wider industry of where to focus efforts in order to grow and develop existing and new textile rag and recycled fibre material markets in the UK.

WRAP is a not-for-profit company that help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.

AP Benson is a management and economic development consultancy with offices in Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Reading. Since the company's formation it has provided services to the public and private sector in a range of fields including developing business models, economic feasibility studies, project evaluation, business development and IT Transformation.

Posted on 1st February 2013