Meet Roba Amiga

Interview at Miquel Vidal, Director of the area of Circular Economy in Formació i Treball.

Fundació Formació i Treball is a social entity that provides training and work experience to vulnerable groups through various projects that respond to people at risk of social exclusion. Their mission is to facilitate access to the labor market for these people and to manage and dignify the delivery of basic necessities to families with scarce economic resources.

Among the projects they manage the collection of the textile in the framework of Roba Amiga with the collection, triage according to the characteristics of each product to give them a second life.

What quantity of cloth is collected annually?

Approximately 11,000 tons per year.

Which method do you use to collect the clothes?  

We have three lines: citizen donation from the containers, and from which we obtain more volume of theft, the donation of entities (parishes, schools, organizations, companies, etc.) and donation of producing companies, which donate us their surpluses.

Does Roba Amiga depend on any other entity, company or NGO?  

Formació i Treball was founded as an entity in 1992 by Càritas, due to the need to establish a place for vulnerable people with training to work in Barcelona. 

The consortium of entities of the Roba Amiga Cooperative is currently formed by the following companies: Formació i Treball, ADAD-L’Encant, Solidança, Troballes i Recibaix, and aims to modernize the sector in terms of efficiency and profitability, making the process of managing second-hand clothes in Catalonia more efficient, to reduce as much as possible the number of textile residues through a model that promotes the insertion of people in situations or at risk of social exclusion.

The objective of the Roba Amiga Cooperative is to continue extending the number of contents to Catalonia, and today there are more than 1,700 contents distributed throughout the Catalan territory in more than 450 municipalities and private locations that complement its corporate social responsibility actions.

Which percentage is seen as second hand clothes and which percentage is recycled?  

Respect the uses and destinations of the collected theft, from the Fundació Formació i Treball the percentage is 63% for preparation for reuse in other countries, 33% for preparation for recycling of new fibres and filaments and 4% for electric and calorific cogeneration.

Does Roba Amiga have its own textile recycling plants or does it sell the material to outside plants? If the latter, could you tell us which companies you sell it to?

Formació i Treball, located in Sant Esteve de Sesrovires, is an own triage plant where we also supply textile material to create insulation material and textile wadding.

Now the will of Formació i Treball is to collaborate with research centres and filament producers in order to find solutions with sustainable filaments; so that the textile is reincorporated as a raw material (circular vision). All these initiatives help us a lot from the academic and social part; it is necessary to create solutions from the dialogue of the different actors involved. We are promoting dialogue with students and research centres to improve recycling and participate in platforms with other organisations for the management of textile recycling.

What kind of recycling do you practice?

The first step is to do the triage, to optimize and select the pieces (the cream type and the clothes for the foreign market). Then, the clothes of each category go to different suppliers: ourselves (we have shops of Formació i Treball where we sell second-hand clothes) and other suppliers to make automobile components and insulators from the mechanical recycling.

Do you have a job placement plan? If so, what is the percentage of the workforce and who are the vulnerable groups working?

Of the 110 people who work at the triage plant, they come from labour insertion programmes. Some of them are permanent, while others have specific itineraries (training period and labour insertion period).

We work with different groups: immigrant people, elderly people, people coming from prison regiments, etc.

Which countries are the second hand clothes that do not stay in Catalonia destined to? 

The majority of recipients are African and eastern countries.  In this context, they are part of TESS, which was created in 2016 by European agents of the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE).

The creation of TESS is the result of sharing a vision about the role of social economy agents in the second hand textile sector, in sharing values and the will to offer an economic alternative, focused on an ethical approach.

Is the exported theft sold or given? Which entities or companies receive or buy the textile? 

Most of the exported clothes are sold to other countries: a transfer of commercialization is made. We also make donations. For example, we sent 1500 kg of clothes to Lesbos, to the refugee camps, and DHL paid for the trip. We are always open to new synergies. 

There are social entities that contact the donations department (who chooses the requests). At the same time, through the PES (social delivery) people from the social services of the City Councils of San Adrià and Barcelona and other municipalities, provide some vouchers that can be exchanged for second hand clothes and also new donations.

Through the data we have from your creation, do you think that the Catalan consumer is increasingly aware of the problems that exist in the linear economy?  

We are in a moment of change: towards a new model of consumption, of reuse of products and recovery of resources. This is the great challenge that from the administration of the entities we are putting within reach of everyone. 

Yes, I believe that consumers are more aware. But we must increase awareness of the impact of the different processes. From Formación i Treball we do environmental education: only this last semester, we have promoted an environmental education program with 1400 students of different ages.

We have a challenge of circular economy in the EU, and to reach it, the textile is in the way of this objective. We have to work on it at all levels.

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