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used textiles industry, like the textile industry itself, is a commercial and profit-oriented business.
According to FairWertung, the average result produced by a German sorting business can be divided into two types of goods, second-hand items and materials for recycling, including landf ill. Second-hand items are classified into top-class clothing and linen, accounting for 2-3%, which is sold in the appropriate shops in-country. These are followed by 7-9% of clothing/linen of the quality category 1, 23-27 % of categories 2 + 3 as well as 4-6% of shoes. The materials for recycling include 14-17% of wiping cloths and 23-26% of other recycling products, as well as 12-15% of waste for disposal (see below).
According to the f indings of the student research project, some 10% of the products for recycling purposes are used for thermal conversion. It is important to know that the fuel values, measured in kJ/kg, are 15,000 for cotton, 17,000 for paper, 20,000 for wool, 22,000 for polyester and 43,000 for polypropylene. These fuel values are considered suitable for generating electricity or district heating. In comparison, brown coal generates 10,000 kJ/kg, anthracite 29,000 kJ/kg, natural gas 35,000 kJ/kg and petroleum 45,000 kJ/kg.
COMPOSITION OF USED CLOTHING 5)
Recycling material a. o. Secondhand products
2 -3 % 7-9%
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Used clothes hall, Photo: Centre for Sustainable Fashion; the company is offering recycling assistance http://www.sustainable-fashion.com Sorting used clothes after categories and qualities at Fa. Dohmann Textilverwertung http://www.dohmann-textilverwertung.de
THE ROUTE OF THE CLOTHES BAG IN THE SORTING BUSINESS The FairWertung umbrella association once interviewed a 51-year-old former skilled textile worker and textile sales assistant who now works in a used clothes sorting company. We quote passages from the interview 6):
“The sacks are delivered in lorries and unloaded in wire mesh crates. Then a computer-controlled system takes the sacks to the pre-sorting stations. In pre-sorting, items are sorted by type, so quality selection does not take place at this stage. We distinguish between dresses, skirts, trousers, outerwear, anoraks, children’s clothing, knitted and household goods. The pre-sorted pieces are then taken to the worktables where we sort them by quality. There are four quality groups for clothes: very well preserved items that are up-to-date in terms of fashion, the so-called top-class quality. This is destined for second-hand shops. The no. 1 quality is also very well preserved and mostly shipped to Eastern Europe, Africa and Italy. The no. 2 quality is somewhat less good including, for instance, clothes of faded colour. The no. 3 quality is out of fashion and not so well preserved, some items have small holes. However, even the no. 3 quality should not be really damaged.”
When asked about her work, she answered: “I don’t work in clothing myself, I am in the household department, so I sort the bed linen, lambskin underblankets, table linen, towels and f lannels, chair and sofa cushions, haberdashery, curtains, floor and bathroom rugs, as well as tents, sleeping bags, mosquito nets and also nostalgic items. The latter include Thirties and Forties bedspreads, lace and crochet doilies, and embroidered table cloths – items you can no longer buy these days. In total, I sort 33 different types.”
What skills are required for the job: “Here there are 100 women and 14 men working in shifts. The women do the sorting, the men unload and transport the wire mesh crates on forklift trucks. Sorters are supposed to be hard-working and enjoy their jobs. And they should
Left: Transportation of collected clothes by the company Textile Waste Solutions, USA http://www.twaste.com
High quality clothing offered by a social-work association http://www.foerderer-straso.de/kleiderkammer.html
Secondhand shop, centre: Alexa‘s, above: DO & S, Munich resp. Saarbrücken www.styleclicker.net; www.bigcitywall.com have the ability to recognise fabrics, i. e. to distinguish cotton from linen, denim etc. Yes, and fashion does play an important part. I always tell the women: ‘Look at the catalogues! Go and visit a fashion show from time to time’!” Market with textiles from Europe in Kiboswa /Kenya http://www.helpkenyakids.org Photo: Project ‚Help Kenya Kids‘ Secondhand shop on a market in Kenya http://www.fergusonfour.blogspot.com Photo: Missionary family Ferguson
THE ROUTE OF USED TEXTILES AROUND THE WORLD Industry insiders estimate that no more than one third of the clothing collected in Germany i s actually sorted in the country. The major part of original material collected is exported to the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium. To a lesser, albeit increasing, degree the material is delivered to Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. Poland i s the largest importer of used textiles and the country with the largest number of sorting businesses in Eastern Europe. Traditionally, Tunisia is an important country for exports of unsorted clothing.
Germans are not very keen buyers of second-hand textiles. According to FairWertung, in Western Europe these tend to appeal to the French and Italians.
The association adds: “The most important export regions for German sorting companies are Eastern Europe, the Middle East and, above all, Africa. According to export statistics, in 2006 the most important countries for exports on the African Continent were Cameroon (ca. 10.000 tonnes), Ghana (ca. 6,600 tonnes) and Kenya (ca. 6,200
tonnes). Chile is a traditional importing country in South America (over 4,000 tonnes). Pakistan i s a classic buyer country for lesser qualities that are not in demand in other markets (nearly 9,000 tonnes in 2006). Many African countries meet 6070% of their clothing demand by used clothes, which is an important industry; in some nations, the proportion of used clothes i s as high as 80%. However, local tailors’ revenues have declined by 30% on average in the past 10 years as a result of cheap imports of brand new clothing from China, and a great loss in purchasing power due to the global economic crisis. Recently, our media focused on the discussion in Oslo of human rights and of the world climate in Mexico. Scarcely anybody drew attention to the rape of nature caused by our economic system. Its beneficiaries are our Western societies whose brutal consumption of natural resources to produce textiles as well as other commodities has gagged the remainder of the world’s population, yet it is still unable to stop the advance of poverty in their own national economies.
Fashion in seconhand look http://www.impexpo.it, Foto: Firma IMP/EXPOswg
WHAT WE CAN DO The first question we need to ask relates to the state of our civilisation, which through wasteful use of resources, generates so much violence, urging us to suppress this fact to master our daily life. As regards our consumption of textiles, we can take some pressure off by not discarding our textiles for fashion reasons, but to counter that trend by basing our purchases on universal criteria that relate to aesthetics and the quality of materials and production. We should also use our clothes longer and take better care that our ‘second skin’ is compatible with healthy living. In our immediate social environment, we could organise clothes exchanges or consider local charity clothes stores and second-hand shops for clothes disposal, or at least donate them to used clothes companies that place emphasis on fair recovery and fair trade in used textiles. Once we have thus regained our inner strength, we will be able to muster a more critical spirit to counteract the shopaholism that the dealers in “free” market economies hope to inspire in us. ■
Used clothing as material for a work of art, in this case preparations for the ‚Monumenta‘ 2010 with Christian Boltauski, Grand Palais, Paris(see page 26 ff)
Photo: Didier Plowy©Monumenta/mcc,2010
Notes 1) “Potentials of reduction CO 2 emissions within waste and recycling management in Europe, May 2008, by Prognos (www.prognos.de), INFU (www.infu.tu-dortmund.de) and ifeu (www.ifeu.de) 2) BIR – Bureau of International Recycling, Brussels, http://www.bir.org 3) bvse – Bundesverband Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung e.V. (Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal), http://www.bvse.de FTR-Fachverband Textil-Recycling, http://www.fachverband-textil-recycling.de Student research project “Textilrecycling in Deutschland” by Yinan Gu at RWTH Aachen University, Department of Processing and Recycling, Professor Thomas Pretz, supervised by Indra Weranek, July 2008 4) World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), Berlin, http://www.wwf.de 5) FairWertung e.V. umbrella association, Essen, http://www.fairwertung.de 6) “Eine Sortiererin erzählt von ihrer Arbeit (A Sorter Tells about her Work)”, included in the information pack published by FairWertung in May 2008
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