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Used clothes: Why is worldwide demand declining?

Each grade is packed up into plastic sacks weighing 45kg that are then sold for anything from 5-150 to foreign buyers. Bras and football kit go for the most, Mr Barry says. Image caption Because of cost pressures, LMB has had to reduce staff from 100 to 20 full-time workers The sorting is quite a labour intensive process. “There’s not a machine that will tell you that’s a grade one hoodie,” he tells me, as 10 workers sort through the latest truckload. He says that over the past five years he’s seen 60 -70 companies stop their sorting business. And LMB hasn’t been immune, he says he had to trim his staff from nearly 100 workers to some 20 today. “Clothing is an international trade, they can buy from anywhere,” says Mr Barry, who says it’s hard to remain competitive when labour costs in the UK are quite high. Image caption A massive conveyor belt transports half a million tons of clothes to workers each day Part of what is hurting Mr Barry’s business is the fact that most of the clothing we buy today is increasingly being sorted into the lower “junk” category. Manufacturers know that customers are more interested in low prices than durability, because they increasingly expect to wear their clothes just a few times and throw them away. “So the quality’s not as good, so when our customers get [an item] they’re not getting two or three hundred wears out of it – they know it’s only going to be a couple of uses,” he says. That means, according to Fee Gilfeather, head of marketing for Oxfam’s trading division, “more [clothing] is getting incinerated than there used to be.” Image caption The future will involve figuring out how to turn these unwanted clothes into new fabrics say industry experts Which is why both Oxfam and LMB say the future of clothes recycling might be “closing the clothing loop”: figuring out a way to fully recycle these clothes into fabrics we might use.

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