10:57 AM PDT, September 18, 2021
A mountain ridge of garbage mars the beauty of a beach in Ghana. One of the chief culprits? Textile waste from industrialized nations in the West.
But how does it get there? Call it the unintended consequences of charity.
Used clothing is donated. That clothing is shipped to places like Ghana. And the United States is the world’s chief exporter of secondhand clothes.
Each week, roughly 15 million pieces of used clothing arrive in this market in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
The garments are packed in large bales, which traders buy for anywhere from $25 to $500.
They don’t know exactly what’s in them, so it’s a gamble every time. But locals try to re-sell what they can to make a profit.
The people in the market have a name for these old duds, which one trader shared with CBS News’ Debra Patta: Dead white man’s clothes.
Why? “Because you’d have to have died to have given away so many clothes,” he said.
Some of the ‘dead white man’s’ clothes’ can be repurposed. But a lot of it isn’t good quality, designer and activist Sammy Oteng points out.
“Before, they used to have good quality clothes. But now there’s a lot of trash and a lot of very low-quality clothes,” he said. “The whole fast fashion model is built around, like you know, building cheap clothing.”
“I feel like waste is being built into the model of fast fashion, overproduce overproduce overproduce. In the end, people wear clothes for just like two weeks and then just discard them. The waste doesn’t end up in America. Ultimately, it ends up here in Kantamanto.”
And what can’t be used ends up as garbage, which is a lot of it. Garbage that gets washed onto the beaches, or finds its way to towering landfills.
And landfills like this one, made of old textiles, can emit toxic fumes.
A reminder that the things we throw away — or donate — don’t just go away.