IAfrica has become the dustbin of our old clothes. Reports, documentaries, reports have described to us in recent months an unsustainable situation: beaches in Ghana strewn with textile waste from Europe, a mega dump saturated with clothes in Kenya, the dissemination of plastic fibers in the environment, endangering the health of local populations and aquatic environments, etc.
Faced with this situation, it is easy to point the finger – as was done in particular in a documentary broadcast on December 19, 2022 on France 5 – the merchant-exporters, or associations such as Emmaüs, Le Relais or the Red Cross, who take care of the collection, sorting and seek to make the most of our old clothes, a large part of which is actually sent to Africa.
These ideal culprits are not, however, responsible for the current situation. Instead of risking giving credence to the idea that the export of our textile waste is the result of excesses or embezzlement by sorting players, let’s go back to the source of the problem.
Europe exports more than three times more used clothing than in the early 2000s, warns the European Environment Agency. Every year, billions of old Western clothes are landed in Africa or Asia. France alone exports half a billion.
At the origin of this textile deluge: “fast fashion” (disposable fashion, low quality clothes for a short time), now dethroned by the ultrafast fashion of online sales sites. Their commercial success is based on derisory prices, but also on a strategy of incessant consumption incentives. The excess of the offer is one of the components, when thousands of new references are put online every day, creating as many artificial needs.
Statistics and field surveys remind us of a physical reality: fast fashion does not have the power to vanish. Textile production cannot be exponentially increased without material consequences. In addition to its dramatic social and environmental impacts during the manufacturing phase, textile overproduction generates an amount of waste that we, Western countries, are not able to support. And it is of course not the fault of the collection and sorting operators belonging to the social and solidarity economy…
All the levers must be activated to put the textile industry back into a sustainable framework. Precisely, the future environmental labeling of clothing, which will be deployed from 2024, must make it possible to clarify the choice of each and everyone, by lifting the veil on the environmental impacts of each product.
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