The image shows clothes landfills in Ghana, Africa, where most cast-away clothes from the UK end up. The clothes are t-shirts from Asos, pink jeans from Primark and silk-pyjamas from Marks and Spencer. The clothes come to market, retrieved from informal dumps piled 25 feet high, spilling into a river near the Old Fadama slum, home to about 80,000 people.
This market in Accra, the capital of Ghana, is where thousands of tonnes of British clothes and footwear end up, the clothes that we discard in our clothes bins on our streets and what the charity shops cannot sell. We are merrily giving away these clothes, thinking that they will be sold on or given to the poor people, are sold by the bundles to textile merchants who pile them onto sea containers that end up in Ghana or Eastern Europe.
We are a throw-away society, and this is what happens when we discard our unwanted clothes. In 2019 UK consumers spent a record £61 billion on new outfits – the majority in Europe. As a result, we threw away an estimated 13 million clothes items every week, according to Oxfam. A United Nations report highlighted that almost 400,000 tonnes are exported to buyers overseas each year. The top traders are Poland, Nigeria and Pakistan. Ghana is at the top of the list.
The best of the discarded clothes are sent to Eastern Europe to be sold in shops. The charity shops here will attempt to sell them but sell them to rag merchants after a particular time, if not sold. The less desirable clothes get incinerated or sent to landfills by sea containers. These lesser categories of clothes are sold on the market at Kantamanto, not only high-street brands but labels such as Barnardo’s, Dogs Trust, Age UK and British Red Cross.
The positives surrounding Kantamanto market is that 30,000 people make a lining and many clothes get a new life, due to amount of tailors, designers, printers and seamstresses who reimagine clothes, making something new from things we discard.
The negative surrounds the dumping of clothes considered low quality and not worth the time to restore to a saleable item. These are the ones that are dumped on the 25-foot landfills.
Clothes from the UK are of the best quality before stored in “bales”. The clothes are not washed, so this has to be performed and sorted. It is only worth the effort if the clothes are saleable. The clothes are used for spare parts that always come in handy for restoration. The “good” businesses control the process, but 10% give the industry a “bad” name. It appears that there is a minimum of regulation.
Charity shops in the UK, the clothes industry is a substantial income stream. Unfortunately, the shops only receive a small amount of what the clothes are worth, but once these clothes reach Accra, Ghana, the price triples per tonne. This is most unfortunate for the charity shops, as they miss out on most profits due to the small capacity that the shops can hold for more extended periods.
What is the solution?
Western consumers need to reduce the amount they purchase. Keep the clothes longer and, more importantly, attempt to buy better quality clothes that will last longer.
Would you mind thinking twice before you discard items or send them to charity shops? You are undoubtedly contributing to a greater landfill, but you are also helping out smaller enterprises, like the ones in Kantamanto, to make a living.
Just discard at a slower rate.
Until the next time, think before you dump.