Every year, countless used textiles are sent to countries in the South, and in particular Kenya, where a large part of them end up in open landfills. “A huge part (…) is made up of articles made of synthetic fibres”according to the Changing Markets foundation, which points in a report, Thursday, February 16, a situation “fueled by the growing production of cheap synthetic clothing made by Northern brands”.
The organization offers an estimate of this ecological disaster, the result of a survey named “Trashion”neologism formed from ” trash “ (garbage) and “fashion” (fashion). According to these calculations, of the more than 900 million used garments (including 150 million from the European Union and the United Kingdom) shipped to Kenya in 2021, “an estimated 458 million used clothes are unusable waste, and that 307 million of them are likely to contain plastic fibers”.
The work of Changing Markets, carried out in September 2022, is based in particular on customs and import-export data. It is accompanied by fieldwork by the nonprofit Wildlight and the Clean Up Kenya Association, which compiled over 80 interviews with Kenyan merchants and traveled to key sites, such as the Dandora open-air landfill, at the gates of Nairobi, where tons of rubbish are piled up.
“The impacts of soil, water and air pollution are considerable”, notes Changing Markets. The organization also highlights the testimonies of Kenyans working in the second-hand trade, recounting their poverty wages and the risk to their health, in particular by inhaling the fumes of synthetic clothes which burn.
For Changing Markets, “Western countries are using the second-hand trade as a pressure relief valve to deal with the huge problem of waste from fast fashion”. The foundation recommends in particular the use of non-toxic and sustainable materials and the establishment of sectors with extended producer responsibility – which already exist in France. It also recalls that the Basel Convention prohibits the export of waste to countries that do not have suitable reprocessing capacities.