Textiles could be collected commingled with other dry recyclables if a trial by Lewisham council proves successful.
Under the scheme, launched in partnership with the council’s textile contractor LMB Textiles, survival bags are being delivered to households in the London borough. The bags allow used clothing, shoes and non-clothing textiles such as bed linen, curtains and towels to be collected in a 240-litre wheeled bin as part of the council’s commingled collection service.
If successful, the scheme could be rolled out to other London boroughs.
There are further trials already planned with 50,000 Suffolk households in August/September and 10,000 households in Thurrock, Essex at the end of the summer.
In a bid to get residents to participate in the scheme the council is offering them the chance to win £100 by filling in a questionnaire and placing it in the bag alongside their unwanted textiles.
At present, the majority of textiles are collected through charity shops and textile banks, with the Textile Recycling Association estimating only 10-15% is collected at the kerbside or door-to-door. This is likely because of the problems that arise when collecting textiles at the kerbside.
Including the material in commingled collections can lead to contamination rendering them unsuitable for reuse. They can also cause problems for MRF operators as they interfere with mechanical sorting equipment causing unnecessary downtime.
The survival bags are a result of three years research and development by LMB and, following work by WRAP, the single-use bags are made from heavy duty polythene with an adhesive self-seal top and a one way air valve on the bottom. This allows for air to escape, limiting the likelihood of it being punctured or popping, and stopping contamination from other recyclables, such as moisture and odours. Dubbed ‘Sir Vivor’ bags they measure 46cm by 76cm and have been tested with eight MRFs throughout the development stages.
Ross Barry, business development manager at London-based LMB, said the trial will last a month.
“Once collected, the bags will be delivered to Bywaters’ MRF, where they will be removed at the first picking line. We will then collect them and look at the quality and quantity of the contents we have received as well as how many have been returned,” said Barry.
“We can then see if it is financially viable to take it forward. We think it will be. If we get 15% of the bags returned, and with textiles valued at around £300 per tonne, the scheme will make a slight profit. If we get more than 15% back then we would start making a profit. The idea is for it to be a self-financing project.”
The bags for the Lewisham trial have been funded by a £46,000 grant from the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) as part of its Textile Reuse and Recycling Fund, which aims to create solutions to increase the reuse and recycling of textiles in the city.
South Cambridgeshire district council undertook a similar trial in early 2013 which saw a 160 gram blue polythene bag distributed to 6,500 households in the area.
However, the scheme was not extended as previously hoped because of the running costs associated with the scheme, which saw only eight tonnes of material collected in a year.
In its proposal for funding, LMB noted low tonnage increases were anticipated for the Lewisham trial but notes that future tonnages could be ‘significant’ if it proves successful as it has the potential to be expanded.
Barry believes the benefits of the bags to be threefold: they help divert material from landfill while increasing recycling rates; create additional revenue for councils from the sale of the material; and make it easier for residents to recycle by utilising existing infrastructure.
“At the moment any textile recycling basically means the public has to go and do something – like walk to a textile bank or a charity shop.
“Kerbside textile collections by charities are prone to theft and, therefore, the public has lost confidence in them.
“And, because the bags are collected separately by charities, they don’t fit in with existing infrastructure.”
When asked if he were concerned by a potential backlash from charities which feel they could miss out as a result of the scheme, Barry was confident this would not be the case. He added residents who wished to donate their goods to a particular charity could still do so.