Cattle walk at a dump site where secondhand clothes are discarded in Accra, Ghana (AFP via Getty Images)
These photos reveal where a huge proportion of the west’s second-hand clothes end up.
They’re sold to companies that then export the clothes to countries around the world, including Ghana, India, Chile and Guatemala, and sell them to local traders.
The traders re-sell what they can, but the rest is usually dumped or burned, causing what experts say is an environmental catastrophe.
Ghana is the world’s biggest importer of used clothes as well as unsold new clothing (known as dead stock), with Kantamanto Market in Accra, handling about 15,000,000 garments a week, reports the Guardian.
Around 6,000,000 of the higher-quality items are sold or upcycled in the market every week but 40% is discarded as waste.
The increasing popularity of fast fashion has pushed the number up significantly because the country receives more and more lower quality garments that can’t be sold.
An aerial view of a massive clothing dump site in Accra (AFP via Getty Images)
Some of the clothes are of good enough quality, but the sheer volume outweighs demand and the resources available to process them.
The amount of discarded clothes is putting enormous pressure on the country’s waste services.
Between 2010 and 2020, 10 legal rubbish dumps in Accra closed after reaching capacity.
Justice Adoboe of the Ghana Water and Sanitation Journalists Network said the clothes are often ‘dumped indiscriminately because our waste treatment is not advanced’.
Traders selling second-hand clothes at Kantamanto market in Accra (AFP via Getty Images)
‘When it rains, floodwaters carry the old garments and dump them in drains, ending up in our water courses and begin to cause havoc to aquatic life,’ he added.
A lot of the clothing is made from synthetic materials and chemical products, meaning they are not biodegradable and take more than 200 years to decompose.
In August 2019, the country’s only sanitary landfill dump exploded after becoming overwhelmed with dumped clothing.
A second hand clothing warehouse in Escuintla, Guatemala (Picture: Daniele Volpe for Bloomberg Businessweek)
In May last year, a delegation of Ghanaian clothes dealers visited Brussels to push for Europe-wide legislation to ensure the fashion industry helps address the ‘environmental disaster’ happening in the West African country.
And it’s not just the environment suffering, although the clothing import industry provides 30,000 jobs in Kantamanto, the fall in quality means the traders’ earnings are now lower.
The world’s biggest exporter of used clothing is the US. According to the latest figures from the Observatory of Economic Complexity, it sent $834 million worth of garments abroad in 2021.
A woman searches for clothes amid tons discarded garments in Atacama, Chile (AFP via Getty Images)
One of its major customers is Chile, which received around $55million worth of used clothes in 2021.
SumOfUs, a non-profit advocacy organisation that aims to hold large corporations to account on issues such as climate change, corruption and workers rights, found enormous quantities of clothes has been piling up in ‘micro-dumps’ in Chile.
They found the build-up of toxic waste was having a profound effect on local residents, who were having to deal with issues such as pollution and pests.
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