Public urged to check ahead to avoid overwhelming charity shops with mountain of clothing donations
Charity shops and collection banks across the UK could be swamped with 67 million items of clothing and 22 million shoes as coronavirus restrictions begin to lift, according to a new analysis from waste body WRAP that warns millions of Britons have used the lockdown period to sort old clothes ahead of a major clear out.
In a WRAP survey of 2,400 people carried out in May, 41 per cent revealed they had either already or planned to clear out unwanted textiles and clothing after lockdown restrictions began in mid-March, with the majority having stored those items ever since in preparation for when charity shops reopened.
WRAP estimates the equivalent of 184 million textile items may have been cleared out by Britons over the past three months, and the survey findings suggest 57 per cent of those items are still at home ready to be disposed of or donated after lockdown ends.
The results would mean the average Briton is set to discard 11 items of clothes, with 49 per cent of survey respondents promising to donate these items through a charity shop, and 17 per cent via a charity bag collection service, according to WRAP.
The most common items sorted by the public during lockdown have been clothes - particularly t-shirts, blouses, jumpers, hoodies and sweaters - which accounted for more than a third of the total. Shoes provided for a further 19 per cent of the looming textile mountain, while old bedding, bags and handbags, accessories, and household textiles are also set for a major clear out in many homes.
In order to prevent charity shops and other textile services becoming overwhelmed with the sudden influx of old textiles, WRAP's director Peter Maddox urged people to check ahead before donating old clothes to charity shops and take-backs schemes.
"We have been working with organisations from across the sector to prepare for when they reopen and the expected high levels of donations coming in, over a relatively short time period," he said. "Everyone can play a role in supporting the charity and textile reuse and recycling sector. Call ahead or look online - check with your local authority - but please never leave clothes in front of a closed charity shop or a full textiles bank."
Textiles and clothing items are notoriously difficult to recycle, and large amounts of old clothing still end up being sent to landfill in the UK each year, where microplastics from synthetic textiles pose a particular problem in polluting waterways.
WRAP said the proportion of people concerned by the environmental impacts of clothing had risen over the past three years in its annual survey, now standing at 50 per cent, up from 31 per cent in 2017.
But it also warned that 14 per cent of respondents still planned on disposing of unwanted clothes in the general rubbish bin, while 36 per cent had already thrown their old clothes out in the waste.
Separately, WRAP has also published a new global research report produced in association with US environmental group the World Resources Institute (WRI) and with support from the Laudes Foundation, which suggests consumers around the world are increasingly demanding options to shop for clothes in ways which protect both the environment and people.
The report - titled Changing our Clothes: Why the clothing sector should adopt new business models - surveyed citizens in India, the US, the UK, and other European countries, and points to "overwhelming interest" among fashion-focused consumers for new "disruptor initiatives" that prolong the life of clothes, according to WRAP. Such initiatives could include new emerging business models and services, such as clothing rental schemes, re-sale stores, and repair options.
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