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On the trail of our old clothes....

Sarah Hudson follows the clothes recycling trail from the Barbican via The Salvation Army recycling centre in Kettering and beyond.


ake-do-and-mend has left its mark our collective memories through the experiences of our

parents and grandparents during the Second World War and post war austerity. As the youngest child of four I remember horrible sides-to-middle sheets and a succession of hand-me- downs. But re-using clothing is something

people have been doing for centuries - and continue to do so in different ways. We still admire the beautiful nineteenth century quilts sewn out of clothing scraps but today clothes are more likely to be recycled or re-used through the retail shops of major UK charities. Thankfully the ghastly experiences of the young David Copperfield selling his clothes to Mr Dolloby on the road to Dover are a thing of the past. We can safely take our old clothes to a charity shop or even to the Marks & Spencer’s Shwop scheme.

“A third of all clothes

bought in the UK end up in landfill”

WRAP, the recycling organisation, estimate that around 30% of clothing in the average wardrobe in the UK has not been worn for over a year, most commonly because it no longer fits! This unused clothing is worth £30 billion. Extending the life of clothes by just

three months of active use per item would lead to a 5 -10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints. So I don’t feel so bad about

continuing to wear my disreputable gardening trousers! WRAP recently estimated that a

third of all clothes bought in the UK end up in landfill, but if they were donated for reuse or recycling they could generate £140 million in revenue. But it is encouraging that they found that 540,000 tonnes (48%) of used clothing is re-used, more than two-thirds of which is sent overseas.

So what happens to the clothes we recycle? Here in the City clothes recycling has been brought to our doorstep with conveniently located clothing banks provided by The Salvation Army. The BA Sustainability Group

decided to track down what happens to the clothes, shoes and textiles we deposit in those banks and we recently had the privilege of spending a day at The Salvation Army’s textiles recycling centre in Kettering to find out. There are two recycling banks on

the estate - one on the Willoughby ramp and the other tucked down next to the old YHA building outside the

Bunyan House car park. These banks are well used and are emptied once a week. The bags of clothes, shoes and textiles are collected by an agent and consolidated into a lorry load for transportation to Kettering. The Salvation Army textile processing centre is an impressive operation. Over 650 tonnes of clothing, shoes and other textiles arrives each week. Teams of workers unload the bags; a quick feel will detect non-textile items. It’s amazing what turns up in the

banks - pots and pans, electrical items, toys, games, toiletries, even a replica brass ship in full sail - and huge numbers of old video cassettes. All these items are fished out and recycled or sent to The Salvation Army’s charity shops.

The textile bank in Bunyan House car park

A brass ship which turned up in one of the recycling banks


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