Brands should be made to pay for clothing waste, said the report © CMF / CUK
Brands should be made to pay for clothing waste, said the report © CMF / CUK

Africa being used as 'escape valve' for fashion overproduction

23 February 2023

Up to one in three garments being apparently “recycled” from the EU to Kenya are of such poor quality they are immediately dumped or burned, a report has found.

An investigation by Clean Up Kenya (CUK) and Wildlight for the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF) said exporting junk clothes to poorer countries has become an “escape valve” which allows “systemic overproduction” of polyester and nylon clothing.

The NGOs’ report said up to a third of clothing sent to Kenya from EU contains plastic and even alleged that some of the clothing is used to fuel a power station rather than being recycled.

The report called for it to be made illegal for the EU to “dump” the 112m items of clothing it currently sends to Kenya each year.

It said brands should be obliged to pay for their waste and clothing must be made sustainable by design.

The report said the trade in used clothing was being used as a “loophole” to circumvent EU rules which ban richer countries from dumping non-recyclable plastic waste in less wealthy ones.

The report said 69% of textiles are now made of plastic, such as nylon and polyester, and therefore should come under the regulations.

Kenyan traders reported clothing sent from the EU to Kenya was often soiled by vomit, heavy stains and animal hair.

The NGOs said the true scale of the problem is probably larger than recognised because the investigation focused only on clothing exported directly to Kenya.

“Many items of used clothing exported by European countries pass through a web of countries in and outside Europe that mix and sort clothing, making it impossible to track. Transparency should be improved to crack down on waste clothes ‘laundering’,” CMF said.

Betterman Simidi Musasia, founder of CUK, said: “Our addiction to fast fashion is saddling poorer countries like Kenya with polluted soil, air and water.

“The trade of used clothing from Europe is, to a large and growing extent, a trade in hidden waste. This is known as waste colonialism and it is supposed to be illegal.”

George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at CMF, said: “Unless the fashion industry is fundamentally changed, what we have seen in Kenya and around the world will be just the beginning. Recycling companies cannot be allowed to hide behind their empty promises and should be banned from exporting junk clothing.”

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