Where do our clothes go to be recycled?
It's national recycling week – most people are pretty good at sorting out their items for recycling; glass, paper, cardboard – but what about our clothes? Where do they go when they're no longer required by us? The answer – if you live anywhere in the south of the country, could be Bristol Textile Recyclers. One of our team visited the factory and saw the shocking result of fast fashion, as well as the meticulous job they do at BTR.
Walking into the Bristol Textile Recyclers’ factory space is quite astounding. The quantity of clothing no longer coveted or required by its original purchasers is on the brink of being completely overwhelming. Bags piled to the rafters, conveyer belts, shoots, buckets and boxes of belts and bags. Partially an effect of overconsumption and fast fashion, seeing it in evidence before you is both stark and terrifying. However, fortunately the organisation is meticulous and the process so refined, it allows for confident sifting, checking – and breathing.
Which is unsurprising, since Bristol Textile Recyclers (BTR) has been around since the early 1970s. A family business that recycles 100 tonnes of textiles every single week – let that number sink in – they are the only textile recycler in the south west.
Working with schools and up to 300 charities across the West of England, Gloucestershire, Midlands, M4 Corridor and Hertfordshire, BTR take what’s unsellable in the charity shops; the clothing, shoes, bags, belts, bric-a-brac and books.
BTR also fundraise and organise clothes drives for offices and schools, offer charities without shop fronts methods to raise funds and work with waste management companies, and position clothes banks. The effect is to clear space in charity shops and wardrobes, as well as to promote individuals to think about the journey of the textiles they purchase.
Once in the factory, the textiles are hand graded into 160 different categories. “The quality of the item determines our profit,” says Aimee Campenella from BTR. We sell less than 1% wholesale to the quirky shop and market stall retailers. We tend to pick what they might like, or they can have a look themselves at their weekly appointment. We try and offer a premium service, as 20 tonnes a day is quite a lot.
"We sell the rest of the wearable items to distributors in Poland, Hungary, Africa and Pakistan, then they go to markets stalls, then possibly another market before the individual. Any unwearable items are cut up into cleaning cloth, or it leaves us via our waste management company and is separated into biodegradable and non-biodegradable; it’s then used for car insulation for example. The rest is burned for fuel. We are zero landfill.
“We want to educate the general public on what happens to their clothes. We recycle 100 tonnes a week, but we don’t need to, we have to. It’s a direct result of our overconsumption, of fast fashion putting low grade clothing and textiles into the system and it’s made of such blended, synthetic fibres, so its recyclability is limited too. We have to think about what we buy, look after it and then we can recycle it when it’s truly no longer needed.”
Use the code BL2064 at the checkout to get 20% off until Sunday 28th June.