The fast fashion trash mountain

25th February 2020 | Recycling

On the outskirts of the Ghanaian capital Accra lies a 30ft mountain of rotting discarded clothing. Look closely at the labels and you’ll find scores of garments once worn in the UK. Among the twisted morass of cast-offs are trousers, tops and dresses from High Street stores such as H&M and M&S. For it is here that the unpalatable truth about Britain’s over-burdened second-hand clothing market is beginning to reveal itself.

Many of the garments were donated to charity shops or place in clothing recycling banks with the very best of intentions and the belief that they would be sold to raise money for good causes. But, according to environmental experts, the UK’s love affair with “fast fashion” is creating a massive surplus of por-quality garments which are sent abroad via second-hand dealers and, in some cases, end up polluting countries on the other side of the world.

Fast fashion

In Ghana, a major recipient of the UK’s second-hand clothing, the problem has reached breaking point. While this West African country has enjoyed a flourishing second-hand clothes market for more than half a century, the deluge of worn garments arriving there is overwhelming the country’s infrastructure. A significant percentage of the clothing sent to the main market, Kantamanto – one of the largest second-hand clothing markets in the world – is unsaleable. And without the systems in place to recycle it, around 40 per cent of the used clothes imported into the country ends up rotting in landfill sites. More than 50 tonnes a day are being discarded, and many items are being dumped on wasteland and beaches and then finding their way into the sea.

It is a far cry from the Sixties, when Ghana’s flourishing second-hand market was in its infancy. Once of the entrances to Kantamanto still bears the words “Obroni W’awu” – an Akan phrase meaning “dead white man clothes.” The term was coined at a time when it was impossible to imagine that anyone still given away the well-made clothes that had begun arriving in West Africa from the US and Europe.

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