Salvation Army pegs hopes on clothes line

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The Independent Online
THE Salvation Army has added the saving of old clothes to its more traditional responsibility of saving souls, to become a market leader in recycling textiles.

Local councils in England and Wales, which are obliged by the 1990 Environmental Protection Act to increase waste recycling, have co-operated with the Salvation Army to put into place a network of 1,000 clothes banks, the latest opening last month in Birmingham. The undertaking has so far cost the army about pounds 750,000, but is just beginning to show an operating profit.

Gareth Ward, the national co-ordinator of the Salvation Army Trading Co, is in charge of the recycling operation. 'We have been involved in second-hand clothing for over 100 years, mostly through jumble sales, but we wanted to maximise the potential, and move into the 1990s,' he said.

'We liked the idea of clothing banks, because they are economic to collect from. We put the banks into position and service them, and the local authorities provide the sites.'

In addition to employing 12 collectors to empty all the clothes banks each week, the army has also taken on more than 80 people at a sorting centre in Kettering, Northamptonshire.

The clothes, shoes and textiles are sorted into 120 different grades. Eighty grades are still wearable, the other 40 going for recycling as raw materials. Some go for shredding for mattresses, some for rags, and wool is re-spun for clothes and blankets.

Many of the wearable clothes are sold through charity shops and jumble sales, while some are given to callers at the army's hostels and others distributed worldwide.

Despite starting to show an operating profit, however, the army has run out of money to continue its expansion, and needs a commercial sponsor before further clothes banks can be installed. 'The demand is increasing, but we have no money left to put into capital items,' Mr Ward said.