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Used clothes: Why is worldwide demand declining?

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. Oxfam recently joined Marks & Spencer to manufacture a suit from the high-quality used cashmere that gets donated to its stores. And fast fashion behemoth Hennes and Mauritz - better known as H&M - recently linked with the Hong Kong Institute of Textiles and Apparel, to fund research into how to recycle blended textiles (such as cotton-polyester mixes) into new fabrics and yarns. Image caption Only a fraction of donated clothes are sold through charity shops - the rest get sold on to clothes recyclers or incinerated Yet until technology can catch up with our insatiable need for ever-more fast fashion, one message Oxfam emphasises is that consumers shouldn't stop donating simply because it is forced to burn more clothes. In fact, some of the energy from those unwanted clothing fires could end up powering homes.

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