Can I start by saying that I wish all within the charity retail and recycling sectors my very best wishes in this incredibly difficult time that we all find ourselves in.
I thought it might be useful if I gave a brief picture of the charity recycling market as it stands.
Along with charity shops, charity recycling came to an abrupt halt. Here in ARB Recycling Ltd we effectively went into lockdown on 21 March. With no stock to collect there was and is nothing to process/sort and sell on to export or British markets. There is some activity with collections from clothing banks, but this is fractured and difficult as the onward markets in Africa and Europe are closed. A few recyclers that are collecting bank stock are storing as much as their space allows, but this can be difficult as it starts to sweat and deteriorate if stored for too long.
As you will know only too well the bric a brac and “heavy” clothing markets had gone into decline over 9 months ago, which was reducing margins for recyclers significantly and thus a drop in prices paid to shops had been seen up to the start of the virus. Then lockdown obviously had a massive affect on recycling businesses. One of the main concerns is in what form and shape recycling will re-emerge. It is essential that recyclers here and abroad work together to open up flow of stock and they will have to run very lean for many months, as indeed will all businesses.
What of the onward markets? Africa has some of the lowest numbers of Covid 19 cases and mortality rates with many countries taking quick and quite draconian lock down measures. In my opinion this was ostensibly driven by the fact that many African countries do not have the health systems to cope with an aggressive pandemic. Unfortunately, one or two West African countries announced that they will be easing lockdowns; my opinion is that this is far too soon. Ghana lifted many lockdown rules on 20 April. It is far from clear whether the sale of second hand items is one of the trades that can operate and it has to be said there is very little stock being exported into Africa to be sold.
ARB, like all other recyclers is waiting for charity shops to re-open and we will be liaising constantly with export and British-based onward customers to ensure there is as much synchronisation as possible when markets re-open. The task ahead for us all is not going to be easy, I am sure the charity retail sector is asking questions such as; will people still donate?, what will be the effect on volunteer numbers?, how can we social distance in what are predominantly small shops? Recyclers may need to introduce some form of disinfecting of collected clothing and fumigation of containers for export. People above all must be protected, but at the same time we all need to trade.
Both charity retail and charity recycling will put in changes to ensure safety, but we will have to accept that this may affect level and pace of trade. Here in ARB we will make every effort to be there for our clients when recycled product is ready to be collected again, but I believe we must all make allowances as we start to re-open together, as maintaining the flow of stock chain will not be easy.
I wish us all luck and good fortune as business re-emerges and my abiding belief is that charity shops will once again be and play a pivotal role in high streets around the country and once again provide much needed funds for their parent charities
Adrian Barker – Owner of ARB Recycling Ltd