Pile of clothing with a black blurred background behind, colourful tshirts and trousers

Post-Consumer Textiles Landscape Review

Scene setting.

The trade and movement of post–consumer textiles (textiles that have been purchased, used and then discarded for reuse or disposal) is well established in the UK.

As recently as 20 years ago, businesses working with post–consumer textiles (PCT), such as collectors and sorters, could rely on textile quality and established mature business partnerships to pass on used textiles for reuse, remanufacture, recycling and repair, both in country and abroad. However, in recent years, these businesses have been hit with increased costs, limited labour availability, and a rapidly-evolving high-risk market landscape. This landscape is characterised by growing concerns regarding the industry's environmental impact at the point of disposal, driven by increased consumption and rising levels of textiles being discarded. While the effects of fast and cheap fashion, particularly the shift to synthetic, lower-cost materials and lower-quality manufacture, tailored for short-lived micro-trends, have further exacerbated these challenges.

The items these actors deal with are typically a mix of reusable and non-reusable textiles, with different stakeholders in the value chain having differing views on whether to treat items as resource or waste depending on their business needs and activities. As a result, the flow of PCT towards the end of its usable life can take multiple routes. This complexity has created a situation where the opportunities and challenges for extending the life of these items are not universally understood.

Bringing transparency to the sector.

To increase industry understanding and transparency of the flow of post-consumer textiles in the UK, and foster opportunities for collaboration to maximise the value of PCT, WRAP has conducted a Post-Consumer Textiles Landscape Review.

The review was developed through an iterative process with members of WRAP’s Textiles 2030 voluntary initiative and other industry stakeholders and provides foundational evidence for the initiative. The outputs also assist in the progress of the Textiles 2030 Roadmap and the Closing the Loop on Materials pathway, in turn supporting the transition to a circular textiles economy.

There are two key outputs from the review which are explored in further detail below:  

  1. Textiles reuse and recycling definitions
  2. Textiles reuse and recycling flow routes
It should be noted that citizen behaviour change on PCT, as well as pre-consumer textiles and business waste streams of textiles - including commercial workwear and textiles from hospitality and healthcare sectors, are outside of the scope of this work.

Textiles reuse and recycling definitions.

Various terms have been coined by different parts of the textile industry to describe resources, used products, and waste within the textiles lifecycle. Terminology can inadvertently imply use or value, which can lead to barriers or opportunities in how textiles are considered or handled.

WRAP has developed a set of consistent definitions to describe textiles resources (post-industrial, pre-consumer and post-consumer), key onward markets, recycling processes and business types in the sector to bring much-needed consistency to the industry.

The definitions were developed in consultation with key businesses and organisation and are available to view by clicking the ‘Download’ button below. Accompanying the definitions are diagrams on onward markets for non-reuseable textiles and collection methods which provide context to the definitions.


Textiles reuse and recycling flow routes.

To help the industry visualise the flow of post-consumer textiles in the UK, including actors, actions and onward markets, as well as information on regulatory factors, textile waste hotspots and areas in the value chain where there’s a lack of transparency, WRAP has created an interactive flow chart which is available to view below.

Before exploring the flow chart, we’d recommend reading the guide to the left of the chart for the scope, important notes, legend, as well as definitions, acronyms and initialisms used.

To navigate the flow chart, click on the screen and drag your cursor around. You can zoom in and out by clicking on the black plus and minus icons to the right of the screen. For the best user experience, view the diagram in full screen. You can do this by clicking the black expand button in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

Explore the flow chart

Recommendations and next steps.

Through WRAP’s Post-Consumer Textiles Landscape Review, a number of data gaps have been identified as well as levers for change. In summary these are:

  • Further data collection and analysis is needed to continue building the business case for closing the loop on materials in the UK. To address these gaps, WRAP sees the need for an increased uptake of voluntary reporting. This will support increasing transparency and traceability in the sector and ensure progress can be tracked in the transition to circularity.
  • Minimum sorting standards would be beneficial to the sector by providing guidance on how to implement good practice, help to increase transparency and work to retain the value of PCTs for each onward market or use. 
  • Further investigation or clarity is needed to define what exact processes comprise ‘preparing for reuse’, how they must be delivered and what constitutes processes and materials that have been ‘prepared for recycling’. This will ultimately help to clarify at what point in the recycling process waste materials return to a ‘non-waste’ status.
  • Further consideration is needed on what financial mechanisms are required to address market failures in the scaling of automatic sorting infrastructure and fibre-to-fibre recycling technologies in the UK, from lab and pilot stage to full-scale implementation.
  • In addition to piloting infrastructure, there is a need to identify citizen behaviour change mechanisms – making kerbside collections of clothing default, making it easy and addressing the information gap to ensure citizens understand PCT is a resource and how to interact with PCT collections.