Ghana, dustbin of global “fast fashion”

At the fishing port of Accra, the Ghanaian capital, on February 19, 2023. The beach is littered with used clothes from industrialized countries, which arrive in Accra every week.

On Jamestown beach, Joey Ayesu’s team’s morning run is nothing short of a walk in the park. At the end of this popular district of Accra, the capital of Ghana, you have to slalom between the boats of the fishermen, the polystyrene trays, the plastic bottles and, even more, between the piles of shoes, trousers and shreds of T-shirts which in places form veritable dunes where pigs linger. A spectacle of desolation that Joey and his acolytes cross to collect some water from the sea. These samples, collected every week since August 2022 in the ocean (the Gulf of Guinea) and the lagoon, aim to ess the pollution caused by the mive landing of used textiles from Western countries and Asia.

“We measure the amount of microfibers in the water, from all these nylon or polyamide clothes that wash up on our beaches”explains Joey as he caps a test tube. “There is a real danger for our metabolisms, if only because the fish swallow these substances and we eat the fish”continues the laboratory technician, responsible for ecological research at the Or Foundation, the NGO which coordinates this survey, the first results of which should be published by the end of the year.

Founded by a former American fashion designer, Liz Ricketts, the Ghana-based organization fights against the transformation of the West African country into a textile dustbin of the West. Because, over the years, it has become one of the main backrooms of global “fast fashion”, this disposable and low-quality fashion, suffering a multitude of collateral damage in the process. Each week around 15 million second-hand items arrive there in containers, which European, American, Chinese or Korean consumers have chosen to get rid of. The bulk of these obroni wawu (“the clothes of the dead white man », as they are called in the Twi language) are transported to Kantamanto, located in the economic heart of Accra, one of Africa’s largest second-hand markets, for resale. They feed a real ecosystem where some 30,000 tailors and merchants are active. But, according to estimates by the Gold Foundation, 40% of second-hand clothes are of such poor quality that they have to be scrapped.

A “colonialism of waste”

“Overproduction and overconsumption in the North is a black box in the fashion industrylaments Liz Ricketts. The overflow is sent here, but it is neither recycling nor charity: it is a business whose deleterious effects Ghana must manage without having the means. » A “colonialism of waste” that the foundation wants to highlight by taking a delegation of Kantamanto merchants to Brussels and Paris from Friday 19 May. On the program: meetings with European deputies and NGOs, with actors in the collection and sorting sectors, and various round tables, in particular during the ChangeNow summit, organized from May 25 to 27 at the ephemeral Grand Palais, in Paris.

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