We buy more clothes per person in the UK than any other country in Europe and 300,000 tonnes a year ends up going to landfill or incineration, causing an environmental disaster.
Please DON’T put unwanted clothes or shoes in any of your household recycling bins. See: ‘What’s Best for Unwanted Clothes & Shoes – if you exhaust most of those options, please take them to one of the council recycling points for clothing.
I’m delighted that many Cambridge City and South Cambs recycling points now use SOEX to collect those clothes and shoes and take them to their plant in Wolfen, Germany, which sorts 300 tonnes of clothes and shoes a day – equivalent to about 1.5 million t-shirts. I’m reliably told that they’re European leaders at this.
Taking unwanted clothes and shoes to Germany might seem crazy, but they mainly use ship and railway with a transport carbon footprint fora typical cotton T-shirt, which is only 0.5% of its own 9kgCO2e footprint . So I think the carbon impact of this journey is justified by what happens next at SOEX in Germany
After sorting into about 500 different second-hand products for domestic and export markets, 70% of clothes they receive are resold. Most of the remaining unwearable 30% is sold to the rag industry and the majority of the rest is shredded into mixed fibre for insulation and wadding. Even the dust produced by this process is collected and pressed into briquettes for the cardboard industry.
SOEX are part of Resyntex, a research consortium with a pilot plant that converts unwearable textile into useful chemical raw materials like resin adhesives, bio-ethanol and PET, the plastic used to make clear bottles. These are much more valuable than mixed fibre. If this can be successfully scaled up, it will become an important part of the circular economy.
SOEX Germany receives about 27 tonnes (50,000 pairs) of shoes a day of which about 83% are resold. Recycling the rest is difficult, but they’ve developed a process to separate them into raw materials, like leather, rubber, foam and metal, 70% of which is resaleable. This process suitable for all types of shoe, except those with metal toe caps, special sport shoes like skates or shoes badly contaminated with oil, etc.
Please spread the word, encouraging people to ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’ and to use the recycling points, rather than household bins, for clothes and shoes, as in What’s Best for Unwanted Clothes & Shoes.