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The fashion industry is responsible for a significant amount of plastic waste, with EU countries dumping 37 million items of “junk plastic clothing” in Kenya annually, according to a new investigation by Clean Up Kenya and Wildlight for the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF). This fashion waste is too dirty or damaged to be reused and is creating serious health and environmental problems for vulnerable communities in the country.
Source: Al Jazeera English/Youtube
The investigation highlights fast fashion’s dependence on cheap plastic fabrics and the “escape valve” that exporting junk clothing to poorer countries has become for systemic overproduction. The study has prompted calls for the hidden stream of waste to be illegal, with more than one in three pieces of used clothing shipped to Kenya containing plastic and of such low quality that it becomes waste immediately.
Junk clothing piled as high as four-story buildings and spilling into rivers was discovered by the investigative team on the ground in Kenya. Exporting plastic waste from the EU is restricted and will soon be banned in the bloc, but the report found that the amount of junk clothing arriving in Kenya has significantly increased in recent years. It often arrives soiled with vomit, heavy stains, or animal hair, reflecting an increase in cheap, disposable fast fashion.
Germany, Poland, the UK, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania, Estonia, France, and Ireland accounted for 95 percent of all second-hand clothing exports from the EU to Kenya with a total value of almost €25 million. Germany topped the list of European countries, exporting more than 50 million clothing items, of which over 25 million were waste, and almost 17 million were plastic-based. Poland and the UK followed, both exporting more than 12 million plastic-based items in 2021.
More than two-thirds of clothing is made of plastics like nylon and polyester, which are impossible to recycle. The solution to the problem is not to shut down the used clothing trade but to reform it, according to the CMF campaign manager, George Harding-Rolls. He suggested that the industry needs boundaries and rules, such as those proposed by the EU, which should include comprehensive, strict recycling and reuse targets while shifting fashion towards more high-quality, sustainable fabrics.
Stopping the stream of junk clothing requires action from all of us. One way to help is to be mindful of the clothes we buy, wear, and dispose of. We can also call on fashion brands to produce items from more sustainable materials and pay for their waste. Additionally, we should encourage recycling and upcycling clothes that we no longer need, Donate them to charities, or resell them in thrift shops. Every action we take can make a difference, and by working together, we can create a cleaner and more sustainable future.
Check out these 8 Zero-Waste Circular Brands Saving The Planet From Fast Fashion Pollution and opt for sustainable clothing brands like Tiny Rescue. Check out the entire climate change collection!
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