Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens to all the clothes you donate or throw away? Well, unfortunately, a lot of it ends up in landfills or gets shipped off to developing countries, including Kenya. According to a report by Clean Up Kenya and Wildlight for the Changing Markets Foundation, the European Union has been dumping 37 million items of plastic clothing in Kenya every year. In other words, Europe’s fashion industry has turned Kenya into a dumping ground for fast fashion. But how did Kenya become the dumping ground for EU fashion?
The fashion industry is notorious for its fast-paced nature and ever-changing trends. As a result, many fashion brands produce large quantities of clothes that are meant to be sold at a low cost and quickly replaced with the next trend. This practice is known as fast fashion. The problem with fast fashion is that it produces an enormous amount of waste. Clothes that are made from synthetic materials, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic, can take hundreds of years to decompose. When these clothes end up in landfills, they release harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. To avoid the costs of disposing of this waste, many fashion brands opt to donate or sell their unsold inventory to developing countries like Kenya. However, these clothes often end up in landfills or get burned, releasing toxic chemicals into the air and soil.
In the past, the EU was accused of contributing to this problem by exporting its fashion waste to Kenya. In 2020, the EU banned the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. However, the ban did not include textile waste, meaning that countries like Kenya still receive large quantities of unwanted clothes. According to the report, up to 70% of the clothes sold in Kenya’s second-hand markets come from these EU countries. The clothes that are sold in second-hand markets are often of poor quality and can be harmful to the people who wear them. Clothes made from synthetic materials can cause skin irritation and other health problems. Eventually, the clothes that cannot be sold in second-hand markets often end up in landfills or get burned. This leads to the release of harmful greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals into the air and soil. The influx of these fast fashion also means the local textile industry struggling to compete with the low prices of second-hand clothes. The ripple effect being the closure of many local textile factories and the loss of jobs.
Kenya’s struggle with fast fashion waste from the EU is just one example of the environmental crisis facing the continent. Climate change is coming at us fast, and many African countries are on the receiving end. In many parts of Africa, climate change is already having a significant impact on the environment and people’s livelihoods. Rising temperatures are leading to water shortages and crop failures, which is affecting food security. Plastic waste for example takes hundreds of years to decompose, releasing toxic chemicals into the soil and water, exacerbating the effects of climate change. In turn, these climate change causes temperatures to rise, sea levels to rise, and weather patterns to change. The effects of climate change are already being felt around the world, from extreme weather events to the displacement of people.
The road to creating a sustainable country is still long. Governments need to take action to regulate the export of fashion waste. The EU would also have to consider extending its hazardous waste export ban to include textile waste. This would prevent the export of unwanted clothes to developing countries and encourage fashion brands to find more sustainable ways to dispose of their waste. As for the fashion industry, it would need to take responsibility for its practices’ environmental and social impact, with more brands focusing on producing clothes made from sustainable materials that can be recycled or biodegraded at the end of their life cycle. And consumers need to focus on clothes that are made from sustainable materials and can be recycled, consumers can help to reduce the demand for fast fashion and encourage brands to adopt more sustainable practices.