The Environmental Disaster that is Fuelled by Used Clothes and Fast Fashion | Foreign Correspondent

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The dark side of the world’s fashion addiction. Many of our old clothes, donated
to charities, end up in rotting textile mountains in West Africa. This is a story
about how our waste is creating an environmental disaster.

Have you ever thought about what happens to your old clothes after you drop them off at the
op shop? It might be time to start, because these goodwill gestures are helping to fuel an environmental catastrophe on the other side of the world.

When charities in Australia can’t sell donated clothing, tonnes of it ends up being exported to
countries like Ghana, in West Africa. Ship after ship docks every week with bales from Europe,
the US, China and Australia.

They call them ‘Dead White Man’s Clothes’. Once they arrive in Ghana, they’re taken to the
bustling Kantamanto markets in the capital Accra and from here, they make their way to
villages and towns across the country.

The industry provides jobs for thousands of people, like Asare Asamoah, a successful importer.
He brings in clothes, mainly from the United Kingdom, and if they’re good quality, he can make
a decent living.

But it’s risky business. He has to pay upfront for a bale and never knows whether it’s trash or
treasure. With cheap, fast fashion flooding the world, the quality of the clothes arriving in
Ghana is getting worse and worse.

‘Sometimes you’ve gone and bought something, then you don’t get what you want’, says
Asamoah. ‘Then you lose your money.”

And there’s a dark side to this industry.

Correspondent Linton Besser travels to Ghana to uncover the dirty secret behind the world’s
fashion addiction.

While 60 per cent of imported fashion items are reused and resold, 40 per cent are rubbish,
creating an environmental catastrophe for this poor nation.

With the main dumpsite for textile waste now full, unregulated dumpsites ring the city. These
fetid clothes mountains are often set on fire, filling the skies with acrid smoke.

‘It is totally a disservice to us in this part of the world because we have become sort of the
dumping ground for the textile waste that is produced from Europe, from the Americas”, says
Accra’s waste manager, Solomon Noi.

Emmanuel Ajaab imports used clothes from Australia but he despairs at the poor quality of the
clothes that arrive. From a bale of about 200 garments, he finds only seven he can resell at a
good price.

“In Europe and UK and Australia, America, they think Africa here, sorry to say, we are not like a
human being”, he tells Foreign Correspondent.

The dumped textiles also get swept up in the monsoonal rains and end up choking the city’s
waterways and beaches, posing a danger to fishermen and aquatic life. Liz Ricketts, who runs
an NGO campaigning for awareness of Ghana’s textile waste crisis, lays the blame at the feet
of international fashion houses.

“Waste is a part of the business model of fashion. A lot of brands overproduce by up to 40 per
cent”, says Ricketts.

Noi begs the people who donate their clothes to think twice about where they end up.

“If they come here, like you’ve come, and you see the practicality for yourself, then they will
know that, no, we better take care of these things within our country and not to ship that
problem to cause problems to other people.”

About Foreign Correspondent:
Foreign Correspondent is the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC-TV. We produce half-hour duration in-depth reports for broadcast across the ABC’s television channels and digital platforms. Since 1992, our teams have journeyed to more than 170 countries to report on war, natural calamity and social and political upheaval – through the eyes of the people at the heart of it all.

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The Environmental Disaster that is Fuelled by Used Clothes and Fast Fashion | Foreign Correspondent
The Environmental Disaster that is Fuelled by Used Clothes and Fast Fashion | Foreign Correspondent
43 Comments
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  1. As much as is employment opportunities lets save the environment

  2. they have to learn how to use this clothes to make furniture…..pillows,mattresses,siting furniture to save their own environment and dont throw all clothes in the trash/carbage

  3. Slavery in Africa, Pollution, Corruption, Extreme Poverty, Violence, War, Greed, Monopoly when will all this end in Africa …..???

  4. I'm a 'white man'. I barely have any clothes…various other continents also waste money on shit clothes..

  5. I mean really lol they alllll white mens clothes 😂😂

  6. Wow, it's terrible how big bales of trash are being sent to these disinfranchised countries and see how the ppl are living amongst this rubbish.

  7. Reply
    Christo van Schalkwyk April 26, 2022 at 8:58 am

    horrific…

  8. Reply
    Golden.Lights.Twinkle April 27, 2022 at 2:44 am

    I live in Arizona and go to Goodwill quite a lot. Mexicans come over the border, fill up shopping carts with shoes, sneakers and denim items and take them back to Mexico to sell at a profit.

  9. Why the racist title? These garments are made in China (and across Asia) and the 'West' is hugely diverse and multicultural – not just 'White'. China are fully aware they're polluting the World with their manufacturing, however, they're allowed to do so by big corporations who lobby our corrupt politicians and Governments.

  10. Maybe they lack the brain power to turn these materials into more usable products?

  11. Racist title.

  12. oh man … the owner of the lots should put a kind of fence, and the bidders should stay behind with a cap with the respective number of the bidder, and do it as an organized auction … seller needs an assistant to take notes about who is buying what … just like in the old times exchanges or still today in the fish or cattle markets …. don't know how the seller can remember who took what with that mess ! And instead of putting 95k at risk for each container, these guys need to organize themselves, check if there is a felow national living in the port of orign, pay a salary of dont know, 3, 4k per month, is nothing if they have a guild and move thousands and thousands of containers per month, so the cargoes could be better audited at the orign, and these guys would not have a bad surprise when containers are opened. In relation to the clothes, we should buy only what we will really use, but even if we do that, a shirt will continue to exist, even torn or useless, it will exist somewhere … maybe burst them in the market of orign to generate energy and with a filter to polute less the air ….

  13. Ironic and sad that clothing is made in a Bangladeshi sweat shop and then shipped to the UK. Then once used up shipped to Ghana. Just thinking out loud but I think a sealed multi ton incinerator is in order. Also higher quality controls are needed from the point of origin

  14. Biomass Polymers are well +80yrs old, another alternative suppressed by the crude industry 👺🛢

  15. if i hear one more person say buying fast fashion okay, i'm gonna explode

  16. You forgot the main culprit; Charities. They remove the best items donated to them and dumb their rubbish on businesses at a premium cost. This way they have no environmental responsibilities as they do not send anything to landfill and they make lots of money to pay their directors very high salary. This is a corporate and not a charity. I have been doing business with charities for years but on the surface, they show you how ethical they are but when you know how they run their business, then it is a shock

  17. Note to people. Buy good quality clothes that will last 10 years . Many ‘top’ brands are poor quality over priced fast fashion. We need to stop caring so much for style

  18. why cant the clothes just be burnt.. that would fix everything i think

  19. woops i should have waited till the show over.. sorry all

  20. Why don't they refuse the clothes?

  21. Reply
    Semper Fi Blackjack May 2, 2022 at 10:55 pm

    As with most waste the solution is to turn it into a resource to be recycled to basic raw material.

  22. Disgusting

  23. Reply
    Intermittent Energy May 5, 2022 at 12:29 am

    I think the dyes contribute to a large percentage of the pollution. Those hyper-florescent colors, esp.

  24. When I, as an Australian, donate clothes, I have no idea these are going overseas.

  25. The drone shot at 27:40 looks like a war zone. Consumerism needs to stop.

  26. That australian bale is terrible! Oz often used the term rubbish but they have the audacity to sell those clothes when in fact it could've been junked into bin!!

  27. Reply
    Wanzenried Maria May 7, 2022 at 7:56 am

    I wonder if they are in the crowded market they are not wearing mask, But inside the church they are wearing mask🤔

  28. Both their religion and clothes are unfortunately white man's cast off. I wish they are able to give those up and take up their native religion, culture and clothing with pride and respect

  29. It a pity to see Africa getting the left overs and fighting for it and you have every resource the world need to survive the leaders are accountable stop settling for rubbish

  30. I am not a white man as you can see but growing up I have worn the pass down clothes of many black man. Whats the difference? there is none. Many of these clothes are also from rich black men and women. It is very much racist to say the WHITE MAN CLOTHES!!!!!! As long as you don't have to walk the streets naked, who cares where they came from and who were wearing them!!!!!!!

  31. Burn it all. Compost it.

  32. I do my part saving the world by owning 7 shirts and not getting a new one until a shirt has at least 3 holes~

  33. Here in the falls they have an incinerator which is filtered before it hits the atmosphere. The incinerator generates power.
    Ghana could do the same. Plenty to burn I see. There would still be some waste ash etc but less than that. Power supplied through waste.

  34. The fact that most people do not know, is that, polyester is made from oil. Yes, that's right—OIL. So it does not biodegrade very fast, and sometimes not at all, given the right environmental conditions. Cotton and rayon are also very damaging to our environment as it is being processed into cloth. Our last choice in a material that can be used for clothing is bamboo. Bamboo clothing is very expensive right now. Also I am sure they will find a way to pollute our environment while processing bamboo into clothing too. We as humans on this little planet in the universe need to take care of our home. Sorry Elon Musk, Mars is not going to be anything like Earth in the future. We need to keep fighting for our little ball of paradise.

  35. Why can these clothes not be recycled? I have heard that some use recycled clothes for housing insulation, rugs etc. If not usable why not find a clean way to incinerate instead of shipping ?

  36. My food bank give clothing too which is nice i got a lovely summer jacket and a very good thick coat for the winter and it still in good quality , there is no extreme worn and tear.🤣🤣🤣so I am happy.

  37. Don't worry you will be wearing them as an "earth friendly brand" filth and all. It's what China uses to make America's clothes. Why does China make America's clothes? Cheap cheap cheaper still.

  38. Why don't they recycle them and make covers and quilts from them.

  39. Trucks full to overflowing with white dead man’s clothing, 60k tons every day is alarming. The Ghana of Nkrumah i cry for Ghana for Africa. Is there any hope of us regaining our lost glory?

  40. You mentioned these clothes are coming from the UK but most of them are shipped from the US. When US citizens donate clothing to charities, they think that they are sold in the Thrift Stores here and proceeds are used locally but they are wrong. Most clothing items are shipped overseas to third world countries.
    The thrown away clothing COULD be used to make rugs from but apparently they are too lazy and had rather just discard them.

  41. Reply
    ΒΙΚΥ ΓΕΩΡΓΑΚΗ May 10, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    An idea that my grandmother did was make rugs from od cllothesm…

  42. always blame the west .i got a idea what about not shipping any clothes then what would happen will they still cry. always complaining about something that they are dam lucky to get

  43. Instead of always blaming whitey, why don't you blame the people who accepted this cargo? Yeah, that's what I thought…

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