A report published by Clean Up Kenya and Wildlight for the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF) has found that as much as one in three garments being “recycled” from the European Union (EU) to Kenya is of such low quality that it is either dumped or burned immediately. The study argues that exporting junk clothes to poorer countries has become a convenient “escape valve” for systemic overproduction of polyester and nylon clothing, posing a significant threat to Kenya’s air, soil, and water. The NGOs’ report recommends that the EU makes it illegal to “dump” the 112 million items of clothing it currently sends to Kenya each year.
The report calls for brands to be held responsible for their waste, and for clothing to be designed with sustainability in mind. The report further highlights that the trade in used clothing is being used as a “loophole” to circumvent EU rules that prohibit the dumping of non-recyclable plastic waste in less wealthy countries. The report notes that 69% of textiles are now made of plastic, such as nylon and polyester, which should, therefore, come under these regulations.
According to Kenyan traders, clothing sent from the EU to Kenya is often soiled by vomit, heavy stains, and animal hair. The report suggests that the scale of the problem is probably more significant than recognised as the investigation only focused on clothing exported directly to Kenya. It points out that many used clothing items exported by European countries pass through a web of countries in and outside Europe, making it impossible to track. Therefore, transparency must be improved to crack down on waste clothes “laundering.”