According to a Greenpeace analysis, the circularity advertised by global fashion firms is “still a fantasy,” with the majority of apparel delivered to East Africa ending up in landfills.
Greenpeace Germany traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to learn about the problem of imported textile waste in these countries and to learn about some of the numerous local efforts working to combat it.
However, according to the campaigners’ most recent study, ‘Poisoned Gifts: From Donations to the Dumpsite: Textiles Waste Disguised as Second-Hand Clothes Exported to East Africa,’ issued last week, the majority of the apparel is of such low quality that it ends up at the dumpsite.
“The failure of the fast-fashion linear business model is more visible than in the countries where many of these cheap clothes end up once their short lives are over, on huge dumpsites, burned on open fires, washed out into the sea, with severe consequences for people and the planet,” Greenpeace said in a statement on its website.
According to the report, almost one million tonnes of worn clothing are collected annually in Germany, with the volume increasing by 20% year on year. According to the report, only a small percentage of worn clothing is resold in the country where it was collected: around 10%–30% in the UK, and similar percentages in the US and Canada.
According to Greenpeace, the majority of the worn clothing is sent overseas to join worldwide second-hand commerce in which billions of old garments are bought and sold each year.
However, the non-profit claims that this report demonstrates how textile waste is frequently “disguised” as second-hand clothing and exported from the Global North to the Global South in order to avoid the responsibility and costs of dealing with the problem of disposable clothing, with these used clothes, as well as new ‘overproduced’ clothes, frequently reported and recorded as “reused.” Greenpeace estimates that over half of them wind up in landfills, rivers, or are openly burned.
Greenpeace Germany said it recently campaigned for a ban on the destruction of unsold and returned goods to be included in the German circular economy law in 2020, as well as a transparency requirement for large companies to publicly disclose the number of products they discard and destroy, including textiles.
Following pressure from a number of environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, The EU announced a new textile strategy in March 2022, which recommends a ban on product destruction and a transparency mandate.
The widespread idea that donating clothes is a circular way of dealing with garment waste, according to the Greenpeace analysis, is generating concerns.
“The trade has been labeled “charity,” “recycling,” and “diversion,” and now many people call it “circular,” according to the research, although none of these names are accurate. Circularity is not achieved by simply transferring garments from one location to another. Previously, these clothes would have ended up discarded in dumpsites in the West, but now they end up in African dumpsites.”
African countries that have taken a position against this trade have also run into difficulties, according to the report. The East African Community (EAC) agreed in 2016 to restrict used clothing imports entirely by 2019.
The reason for the prohibition was that it would improve the economy by boosting the local textile industry.
The US, on the other hand, challenged the restriction as a trade barrier and threatened trade penalties, including the loss of duty-free apparel export eligibility to the US market, under the US African Growth and Opportunity Act.
Import tax increases have also caused complications. Consignments of old clothing were left uncollected at the port of Mombasa after importers failed to comply with new duty rules, according to Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
According to Greenpeace, 150–200 tonnes of textiles are dumped in African countries every day, and because up to 69 percent of the fibers used in clothing are synthetic (mostly polyester), they are oil-based and non-biodegradable. Greenpeace alleges that discarded microplastic fibers seep into the environment and end up in the human food chain.
According to the report, because there is insufficient infrastructure to dispose of these vast amounts of textile waste and official dumpsites are overburdened, textile waste is dumped along rivers or at settlement borders.
Some of it is burned openly, causing health problems for those who live nearby and clogging rivers and drains, which can cause flooding.
Methane can be released by decomposing clothing, and synthetic materials like polyester and lycra can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Furthermore, many clothing contains harmful compounds, according to the survey.
According to Greenpeace, it is no longer sufficient for firms to focus solely on cleaning up their supply chains, and they are encouraging global fashion brands to increase their efforts to prevent their goods’ massive end-of-life impacts.
Furthermore, according to Greenpeace, the EU must ensure that its proposal to prohibit the export of textile waste and encourage long-lasting, durable, and repairable clothes of high quality is properly implemented through various rules, which must be accepted as a global treaty as soon as possible.
Greenpeace called for control of fashion supply chains in its Self-Regulation: A Fashion Fairytale report in November (2021), claiming that self-regulation was “failed to fix the problem.”
Content courtesy of Greenpeace & NFH