UK government urged to address a looming textile recycling crisis

The Textile Recycling Association (TRA) has sounded the alarm over fears the UK textile recycling sector could imminently collapse.
April 16, 2024

Textile recycling nearing collapse in the UK

The TRA (Textile Recycling Association) has warned that the UK faces imminent collapse of its textile recycling sector, due to unprecedented financial pressures and global market challenges. The association, which represents more than 75% of the UK’s used textiles collectors and sorters, has urged the UK Government to avert a growing capacity crisis. It highlights concerns from within the industry that dwindling capacity at processing plants will see collections from charity shops, recycling centres and community textile banks, halted[i].

The TRA singles out fast fashion as one of the reasons for pressure on the textile recycling sector, explaining that an influx of low-quality textiles has driven up operational costs, thus placing increased financial pressures on textile merchants. However, this is just one of several industry challenges, with the disruption of shipping lanes in the Red Sea also increasing operational costs, as too are increased taxes in African and Asian markets, coupled with mounting pressures to curb waste exports from the UK[ii].

Furthermore, European countries are exploring whether to ban the export of ‘used’ textiles within the EU. The changes come following research by the EEA (European Environment Agency) which found that the volume of used textiles exported from the EU has more than tripled over the past two decades, growing from 550,000 tonnes in 2000 to almost 1.7 million tonnes in 2019. On an individual scale, the volume of used textiles exported in 2019 was, on average, 3.8 kilogrammes per person, or 25% of the approximately 15 kg of textiles consumed by individuals each year in the EU[iii].

Risk of ‘devastating environmental consequences’

Textile waste is a considerable issue, where on a global scale 92 million tonnes are produced each year alone, with this equivalent to the height of Mount Everest every 7 minutes according to the TRA. In the UK, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimate that £140 million ($177.6 million) worth of clothing is sent to UK landfill every year[iv]. In 2017, the UK government reported that more than 1 million tonnes of textiles were disposed of in England alone within household and commercial municipal residual waste[v]. Of this, clothing equated to almost 400,000 tonnes and non-clothing textiles almost 430,000 tonnes[vi]. Presently, around 620,000 tonnes of used textiles are collected every year for reuse and recycling within the UK, and 60% of these textiles are exported, according to data from WRAP[vii].

The TRA warns of ‘devastating environmental consequences’ should textile waste collection processes breakdown, with microplastic pollution, water pollution, and the accumulation of textile waste in landfills the biggest consequences. The association notes the used textiles industry in the UK is valued at over one billion pounds annually, impacting sectors such as UK Charities, Local Waste Authorities, the Logistics Industry, the Packaging Industry, and will affect 1 in every 25 jobs in the UK.

UK government urged to intervene

The TRA has called on the UK government to intervene, asking for greater regulation alongside an EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) scheme[viii]. EPR would place responsibility for a textile products lifecycle (including its disposal) on the producer, rather than on authorities or consumers. Such a strategy has already been used in the EU, where just last month, The European Parliament debated and passed proposals to introduce EPR reforms which include making companies cover the costs of collecting, sorting and reusing or recycling discarded textiles[ix].

A well-established EPR scheme already exists in France, where producers of textiles, household linen and footwear have been held responsible for the collection and recycling of their products since 2007. Over a 10-year period, this resulted in the number of tonnes being sorted more than doubling, from 96,213 in 2009 to 196,054 in 2019[x]


[i] Textile Recycling Sector Faces Unprecedented Financial Crisis Amid Global Market Challenges - Textile Recycling Association

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Europe’s mounting exports of textile waste show regulatory changes can’t come soon enough (

[iv] Valuing our clothes: The cost of UK fashion | WRAP

[v] The waste prevention programme for England: Maximising Resources, Minimising Waste - GOV.UK (

[vi] Ibid

[vii] As the UK buys more clothes, the SCAP 2020 continues to lead the trend for sustainable clothes | WRAP

[viii] Textile Recycling Sector Faces Unprecedented Financial Crisis Amid Global Market Challenges - Textile Recycling Association

[ix] Textiles EPR will accelerate circularity – environmentally & economically - Circular Online

[x] Europe’s mounting exports of textile waste show regulatory changes can’t come soon enough (

Related Insights

Thank you! We'll keep you posted!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

Lauren's Insights