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The Recycling Industry

Ever wonder what happens to “waste”?

We are known as the “rag man” in the recycling industry. We collect and buy what hasn’t sold in charity shops. Charities do an amazing job at getting the value out of the goods to support their causes and helping people shop sustainably and grab a bargain! Everyone loves a charity shop, right? So what happens after...

I have 12 years experience in the industry; I worked for a textile grading company for most of those years and this is what happens..

Van after van will be dropped off unloading "waste" textiles and shoes. Bags are opened and they ride along conveyor belt systems.

The workforce are mainly of African origin as they have the best experience of the grading processes that Africa require.

Items are separated into their own categories and there are around 90 different categories in total depending on what the item is and the type of material.

Once that category hits 55KG in weight they are then sent to be baled.

With Africa being a hot country; there is no requirement for winter clothing and unless you have European buyers to buy this product; it will often get mixed in with Stained, ripped and bobbled items that go for "recycling".

European buyers will buy what's called "Cream" which essentially is designers, new or nearly new clothing. They often won't buy just winter but will want all year round clothing and therefore will want Cream and Grade A summer clothes too.

The main problem with this, is that it deminishes the quality going to Africa if the "Cream" and "Grade A" is taken out. You can achieve higher prices in the European markets but they will only take the very best!

So, some graders will leave the cream in, others won't. I don't think there is a right or wrong here because sometimes in the recycling industry you are damned if you do and damned if you don't!

If graders don't have European buyers for winter cream and grade A, this usually would go for recycling processes, with the majority going to Pakistan. When it goes for recycling, there is no money in it whatsoever so when recyclers buy goods from charities, if it mainly winter or items not fit for reuse, then the recycling company will lose money instantly.

Charities are paid by the weight for their goods by the recycler, ranging between 30p -45p per kg. Anyone recycler offering more than that would be questionable.

Then the recycler would either drop to a UK based grading company where they would hand process all the items or they would be bagged up and sent to European countries or Dubai for processing. They would process typically in the same way, sorting for Africa and with creams going to European Countriesand the Middle East and recyclables going to Pakistan or India.

From an environmental point of view; it is better to sort at the point of the "waste" I.e. the UK as when you send "original charity rags" they will be shipped to say Dubai and then processed and then will be shipped to Pakistan / Africa.

That's one extra journey that wasn't needed if goods were graded in the UK.

When items are sent to Pakistan for recycling they are resorted by hand and again categorised for Africa (a re-sort for missed items that accidentally got mixed in with the recyclables).

Other items are sent to be cut up and made into "wiper". Wiper is then shipped back to the UK and sold to cleaning companies, garages, anyone needing cleaning cloths.

They will also look out for Vintage items that grading companies have missed and will often send back to the UK for our Vintage markets.

That's 2 products that comes back to our country.

Re-useable winter items will be used in Pakistan as they have cold seasons.

They will then process the remaining recyclables into its materials for recycling processes.

I have been fortunate enough to go to Africa to see where the clothing ends up and what happens to it after it is sent from the grading companies. First of all it will unloaded in shops and warehousing where the African wholesale buyers will sell the individual bales to market traders. These market traders will then take there bales and sell on their stalls. Miles and miles of stalls selling clothing from all around the world.

So why are African landfills so bad?

Some companies will send all grades and all textiles to Africa where they will discard all poor quality (a lot of fast fashion, winter, stained, bobbled, basically items not fit for reuse); these will be dumped at landfill sites which will then take hundreds of years to decompose. It pollutes the soil and water and attracts pests and rodents that spread disease. Landfills also produce methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change.

The Industry at the moment.

The cost of living has affected all businesses, everyone. More and more UK grading companies are closing down as items can only be sorted by hand and the cost of sorting the goods in the UK outways the rewards; as well as this, the recycling industry is volatile! Wars, exchange rates, pirates taking over ships (who would have thought!)… a lot can affect the industry!

Recyclers pay pennies for items and sell for pennies; you only make money on sheer volumes so if you are a small recycling company like ourselves then it makes things extremely difficult.

But when you sell for pennies, I am always thinking.. surely there are people in the UK that need cheap goods. The fact is, that the recycling industry is mainly based on re-use.

Re-use in European countries, Re-use in Africa; there aren't many recycling initiatives actually in place and nor are they profitable when you pay for the waste in the first place!

What more can we do?

We can buy less fast fashion!

We can repair, alter and upcycle our clothes!

We can swap clothes with our friends!

We can buy from charities or reuse centres!

About us

The thing is; so many people in the UK need affordable used goods.. no?

Surely there is a requirement for this?

Here is where Reverse and Change Ltd are different from the normal recycler!

We support a circular economy, we offer reuseable homeware goods in our reuse centre for only £2.00 per KG!

Items that were destined for waste goes to our smash rooms where you can enjoy a very therapeutic and exhilarating smashing experience.

We have a sewing studio which can be rented for workshops and we are starting our very own set of sewing courses starting 26th January.

Opening soon: Clothing, Shoes & bags will be offered out at affordable prices; for example;

Designers and new with tags £5.00 per item

Dresses £4.00 per item

Trousers £3.00 per item

Sweatshirts, Jumpers £2.00 per item

Children's clothes £1.00 per item

Nothing will be over £5.00!

Worn textiles.. can we repair or transform them?

What more can we do with our “waste”?

How can we repurpose? I say “we” because this has to be a community effort to try to deal with our countries own “waste”.

I am just one person; but together we can make a difference!

For more information please come and see us!

Reverse and Change Ltd

Unit 9B Europa Trading Estate, Fraser Road, Erith DA8 1QL

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