People in the UK are putting almost half of used clothing and other textiles in the rubbish bin, according to new research.

The Textile Waste Hotspots Report from Wrap, the climate action organisation, revealed that, on average, each person in the UK throws 35 items straight into general waste every year – 49% of used textiles.

It also found that the textiles that do get donated responsibly have plummeted in price due to saturation of low-quality fast fashion on the market, resulting in less income for the reuse and recycling sectors.

The value of recovered textiles from textile banks and charities has fallen massively over the last decade. The 2023 figures stood at £172.5 per tonne for textile banks and £255 per tonne for charity shops, while a decade earlier, 2013 figures were more than double at £406 per tonne for textile banks, and significantly higher at £432 per tonne for charity shops.

The report also revealed that in England alone, 613,000 tonnes of post-consumer textile waste were disposed through household residual waste bins and residual waste banks at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs).

Of those materials, 84% was incinerated with energy recovery and 11% sent to landfill which, according to Wrap, represents a key concern for an industry with circular economy ambitions.

Wrap called on brands, retailers, investors and governments to support the UK’s textiles reuse and recycling sector through grants, investment and legislation so unloved clothes can catalyse a more circular fashion ecosystem.

Its CEO, Harriet Lamb, said: “We’re all buying too many new items and then putting too many clothes in the waste-bin, consigning them to landfill or incineration. These are valuable resources, not waste. We should be giving to charity shops who rely on the income, selling on e-commerce, repairing or sharing – anything but the bin.

“But we also need to support those recycling our pre-loved clothes. Our reports show that fast fashion and low-quality clothing are flooding the market, strangling efforts to make our clothing more sustainable.

“In the end, we are paying a heavy price for our addiction to cheap clothes. The waste, recycling and reuse sectors are under immense pressure. The UK is fortunate to have an existing infrastructure for textile collections that’s existed for generations. To risk losing their knowledge and expertise would be a tragedy. We need action now so that we don’t let this vitally important sector crumble.”

wrap.org.uk