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Recycling clothes- a local authority’s perceptive


The recycling van comes early every Friday morning and wakes me up as the wine bottles (not all mine) are thrown into the lorry. I live in one of four flats in an old Victorian house in Kentish Town, North London.  At the side of the house, we have 4 recycling bins and other containers to collect food and garden waste.  

If I arrive home late on a Thursday evening, my neighbour has already lined up the recycling bins, piled high with paper, plastic and bottles on our outside wall. Once or twice a year I take unwanted clothes and presents to one of the many charity shops on my local high street.

Camden Council appears to be very proactive in promoting recycling so I was surprised to learn that the borough struggles to meet the Government’s national target for recycling. Two hundred thousand people live in Camden and the Council recycles 33% of its domestic household waste when the national target set for 2010 was 40%. These targets increase to 45% in 2015 and 50% in 2020.

Ann Baker, principal environmental officer, says these targets pose a particular challenge for inner London boroughs where there is a high proportion of high rise housing with little space to store recycling. Camden also has large numbers of people moving in and out of the borough at any one time who need to be informed of what can be recycled and how.

Camden Council collects 280 tonnes of textiles a year. “Textiles form approximately 3% of total waste put out in the dustbin and once it’s in the waste stream, it is too messy to deal with [and recycle] Ms Baker said. The total recycling tonnages for Camden last year was 25,125 tonnes and household waste sent for incineration or landfill was 51,082 tonnes.  

Camden has one major recycling centre with one bin that collects 50 tonnes of textiles a year. The bin is run by a private company, LM Barry, one of the “middle men” in the trade. The company collects the waste weekly and pays Camden Council based on the weight of the clothing collected.

Mark Partlett, contract manager for North London Waste Authority, that runs the recycling centre for Camden said that textile recycling is “quite profitable” for the middlemen, although the income Camden receives only offsets the operational costs of running the service.  “It provides a service and everyone seems happy,” he added.

Camden also has 34 street clothing bins scattered around the borough run by the charity Oxfam. Oxfam does not sell these clothes in their shops, but raises funds by selling on the textiles to private companies like LM Barry. There is money to be made in the textile recycling business, but not everyone is in favour of turning recycling a commercial venture as Ms Baker found in her area. “When we took a paper to the local Councilors, explaining this, the Councilors wanted to support the charitable sector and didn’t want to change,” she says.

She believes that in the longer term, to improve rates of recycling, behavioral change is needed. There is still only 45% participation by the public. “You either do or you don’t -so there’s still a lot more campaigning to do.”



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