Recycling of old clothes is still not viable in Europe #91


Around 80% of the used clothes collected are exported, mainly to Africa and Asia and when these outlets close due to Covid, French collection stops due to lack of storage capacity. The challenge is to develop recycling in France but it is expensive.

Old clothes piling up on the pavements at the foot of the still condemned delivery points and furious local authorities: after the deconfinement, the textile recycling industry had all the trouble in the world to restart. The health crisis has put the spotlight on its weaknesses, the first of which is its dependence on large-scale exports. About 80% of the collection is resold far away, many in Africa and Dubai for reuse or in India for recycling. Only 5% of the collection, what professionals call the “cream”, is resold in shops in France. When Africa and Asia stopped buying, because of the high cost of storage in France, collection stopped in France. In order to restart it without delay, the reopening of major exports, the eco-organization Refashion (formerly Eco-TLC) paid French operators exceptional financial support for each tonne sorted (and therefore collected). This support and the resumption of exports enabled a return to almost normal volumes this summer. “We manage to export, but prices, especially in India, have collapsed and without Refashion’s support, we would be heading for the wall”, says Pierre Duponchel, founder of the biggest French player, Le Relais. False label The second wave of Covid is threatening a new blockage. The sector, everywhere in Europe, is not viable in its current functioning: export is not a solution, the quality of new clothes is decreasing and private individuals resell their best pieces themselves online. “In thirty years, the cream that can be resold in France has fallen from 8% to 5% of the collection, while representing 30% of our income”, continues Pierre Duponchel. To correct this situation, we need to find local recycling channels, advocates Refashion, pleading for automated sorting with equipment that identifies the true composition of the fibers. For, apart from the fact that manual sorting is complex given the cost of labor in Western Europe, “a study commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Water Infrastructure showed that 41% of composition labels were false”, revealed Hilde van Duijn, from the Dutch company Circle Economy, at the annual world convention of the International Recycling Bureau in early October.

Doubling the eco-contribution

Signs put 600,000 tonnes of textiles on the market every year in France (2.5 billion pieces!) and should pay an eco-contribution (modulated according to the recyclability of the material) to finance recycling, according to the polluter-pays principle. “In France, the average eco-contribution is only 0.9 cents per piece of clothing. Raising it to two cents would be enough to finance the modernization of the sector ” with, in particular, material sorting centers for recycling underlines Pierre Duponchel. He will meet Matignon on November 10th to obtain an increase in the financial support of Refashion.

There is an urgent need to take measures. France is a pioneer in the selective collection of textiles, a practice that Europe will generalize in 2025. The volumes collected will then soar. While France collected 249,000 tonnes of textile waste last year, it is estimated that Northern Europe alone generates 4.7 million tonnes per year.

Les Echos