If you’ve not watched it already, the Trashion documentary by Changing Markets is a must-see.

It’s accompanied by a brilliant report, together putting a huge and uncomfortably bright spotlight on our deeply shameful practice of using other countries as a dumping ground for vast quantities of our waste clothing. This report focuses on Kenya, which receives a significant quantity of UK and EU secondhand clothing exports.

globally enough used clothing is sent to Kenya for 17 items of clothing per Kenyan annually, up to 8 of which are too damaged, stained or inappropriate to be used”

Changing Markets

Image source: Trashion report. A waste picker stands in the landfill at Dandora.

The report notes that second hand clothing resellers in Kenya find 20–50% of the used-clothing in bales they buy is unsellable. A seller in the documentary holds up items full of holes and talks about finding items covered in vomit. Another shows Tesco and McDonalds uniforms with the name badges still attached.

our assessments suggest more than 1 in 3 pieces of used clothing shipped to Kenya contains plastic and is of such a low quality that it immediately becomes waste

Changing Markets

The fact that so much of these exported items are soiled or damaged, shows that exports are not being sorted in countries like the UK where the clothing waste is arising. The report names large UK textile recycling companies and clothing brands whose items were found in Kenya during research for the report.

As the shocking documentary footage shows, much of the clothing ends up being burned – in one clip, the clothes are being used as fuel for an open fire to cook over. If not burned, they’re piled up horrifyingly high in landfills, or being washed into the waterways.

We’re absolutely on board with one of the report’s conclusions that brands who are overproducing clothing must pay for it to be dealt with properly at end of life.

This could happen through a tax of some kind per item produced, financial penalties for unsustainable production, or through an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. They make some suggestions on how such a scheme should be implemented, including taking lessons from the French EPR legislation which falls short for (among other reasons), focusing on incentivising sustainable textile production through bonuses, rather than setting penalties for unsustainable production.

In the longer term, funds generated by an EPR scheme or similar initiative should be used to support the repair and reuse economy in countries of origin including the UK, to remove and deal with waste textiles at the source, therefore reducing the quantity but increase the quality of secondhand clothing exports. Alongside this, they should also support the repair and reuse economy in receiving countries like Kenya, enabling a healthier, safer work environment, better resources and fairer pay.
And in the immediate term, CM rightly point out that these funds should be used to fund emergency measures that mitigate the impacts that clothing waste is currently having on people’s health and the local environment in receiving countries such as Kenya.

The report shares lots of other suggestions too. What other ways do you think we should be tackling this problem? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can find the full report here (recommended) and watch the documentary on Youtube here.

Changing Markets have put out a number of excellent reports on the state of the fashion industry, so if you aren’t following them already, give them a follow!