See the horrifying place where your old clothes go to die

02 90640931 see the horrifying place where your old clothes

One August day I discovered myself on high of certainly one of the most spectacular mountains I’ve seen. I’d scaled it with little or no gear, in the similar Nike sneakers I put on on the treadmill. There have been no harnesses, no guides, and no resupply stations alongside the manner. In actual fact, it solely took about 20 minutes to get to the summit, regardless of frequent image breaks. At the high, I regarded out into an limitless blue sky to my proper, and a cloud of livid black smoke to my left.

It was not your typical mountain. Situated about 25 miles away from the capital metropolis of Accra, Ghana, the Kpone landfill holds family trash, plastic baggage, meals waste, and—you guessed it—clothes. Because it so occurred, that day a portion of Kpone had caught hearth—therefore the black smoke. Over the course of the week, the complete landfill would go up in flames.

Should you’re questioning how loads of foreign-label sneakers, clothes, and equipment arrived in a landfill in Ghana, you’re not alone. Only a few of us take into consideration what occurs to our clothes after we’ve gotten rid of them. We lug rubbish baggage full of things that now not “spark pleasure” to the Salvation Military, or we toss them in the trash with our Starbucks cup. We donate with good intentions—we would like our issues to have a second life; we would like another person to get good use out of them, even when we’ve determined they’re ineffective. And whereas that generally occurs, the reality is that there’s not sufficient international demand for the large portions of secondhand, low-quality clothes we donate. Consequently, our good intentions change into expensive, overwhelming waste and an environmental nightmare for individuals dwelling midway round the world.

Kantamanto, situated in Accra, is certainly one of the largest second hand markets in all of West Africa. The entire cause it exists is due to the gross overproduction and undervaluing of clothes. That is changing into a worldwide drawback, however the United States is main the cost. Yearly, the U.S. exports greater than a billion kilos of used clothes.


[Photo: courtesy Portfolio/Penguin Random House]

The longer term doesn’t look very brilliant for the retailers in Kantamanto. The extra disposable trend we give away, the extra stress there’s for retailers to promote fewer clothes for extra. Not solely are these not excessive sufficient high quality to final right into a second or third life, however they’re not the sorts of types or materials that can attraction to Ghanaians.

With a shrinking stock of high quality secondhand clothes and a rising stock of disposable clothes, Ghanaians are compelled into doing precisely what we’re led to imagine received’t occur after we donate our undesirables. They journey 1000’s of miles solely to get thrown in the trash, by no means even glimpsing their promised second life. What’s extra, the disposal methods in Ghana and far of the growing world are much less developed than in the United States, which ends up in extra air pollution and local weather affect than if it had simply been thrown out in the developed world, to say nothing of the environmental value of transporting all that waste.
Trash is as integral to the hubbub of Kantamanto as trend. For each three clothes bought at Kantamanto, two get trashed. Let me pause right here a second. Greater than half of our clothes that’s despatched to Accra goes to the landfill.

This turnover has made Kantamanto the most consolidated level of waste pickup in all of Accra, and presumably the complete nation. Nonetheless, solely about 25% of Kantamanto’s complete waste is shipped to a landfill. One other 15% is picked up by personal, casual collectors who might illegally dump it in waterways, bury it on seashores, burn it in open tons, or just depart it alongside the facet of the highway. This unregulated dumping was behind the 2014 cholera outbreak, which killed 243 individuals.

[Photo: courtesy Portfolio/Penguin Random House]

In a tragic manner, the closing leg of our clothes’s journey makes full sense. First, labor and manufacturing had been despatched abroad to international locations where the absence of rules made all the pieces cheaper, and saved the realities of creating our clothes invisible—and dirtier. Now the similar factor is going on with our castoffs, in order that international locations with out dependable infrastructure drown in our rubbish.
We rolled up to the landfill on a hazy Friday morning. I used to be explicitly briefed not to put on eye make-up to Kpone; the chemical compounds in the landfill would make mascara congeal on my eyelashes.

I had seen the smoke from many miles away, however assumed it was one thing else. The nearer we received, although, the clearer the supply turned. A couple of quarter of the landfill was smoldering, creating clouds of black smoke that billowed so far as the eye may see. Stepping out of our automotive on the burning facet was like strolling onto the set of The Starvation Video games. I regarded down at the dense clay earth to strive to regroup. However when my eyes landed on the define of a pair of denims and a toddler’s embroidered gown embedded into the dust like fossils, my thoughts transported me to all the locations these clothes may need been—was the cotton grown in Texas, or India? Have been they completed in Dhaka, or Shaoxing? Have been they bought in New York, or Minnesota, or London, or did they go by way of Kantamanto?—solely to come right here to die this shameful loss of life, the individuals whose palms made and bought them utterly forgotten.

Climbing by way of the landfill was equal elements treasure hunt, horror present, and Concern Issue as the smoke descended. Though I wore a face masks and intentionally protecting lengthy sleeves and pants, the murky morass of meals scraps, plastic baggage, and clothes was alarming. I saved my focus by enjoying a sport of I Spy. Plastic baggage had been the most simply identifiable, their brilliant neon blues and greens dotting the facet of the in any other case greige topography like confetti. My black knit Nikes discovered all kinds of mates—swoosh-bearing sneakers and slides, together with Asics and a pair of purple Velcro Puma high-tops. Different clothes was tougher to determine, having been principally crushed into the dust like these somber denims or packed in the trash baggage, in order that solely the brightest neon clothes stood out.

Every time I acknowledged one thing, I paused. A sorbet-plaid button-down from H&M. One other tag proclaiming “Made in / Fabrique au Canada” caught out of the heap. A pristine-looking white fake Versace mud bag lay in stark distinction to the rust-colored soil. A canvas tennis shoe that had been so mangled it was barely recognizable.


We couldn’t keep too lengthy at the rubbish summit as the flames approached. As a result of the landfill had already exceeded its capability, sure vital security measures had been deserted. For instance, the landfill had as soon as been separated into 4 quadrants. No extra. Which is why what may have been an remoted incident in a single quadrant was now starting to burn the complete landfill.
For each marketing campaign about donating or giving again clothes, there must be 5 extra illustrating how a lot work goes into really giving these clothes a brand new life and the way a lot of it really simply will get dumped.

It makes completely zero sense to put so many assets into producing a garment, sending it midway round the world to be bought, sporting it only some occasions, after which sending it midway round the world once more for it to simply find yourself spewing all of these assets up in the environment and into individuals’s lungs, soil, and waterways.

However whether or not they’re burning or not, landfilled textiles are all the time a supply of greenhouse gasoline emissions. Rewearing trumps each recycling and disposal of clothes: Sporting a garment twice as lengthy would decrease greenhouse gasoline emissions from clothes by 44%.

[Photo: courtesy Portfolio/Penguin Random House]

All of this to say, there’s actually no such factor as “sustainable trend.” There may be trend which will have a comparatively decrease affect, however it’s a matter of levels, and the knowledge assortment has been so weak on this trade that it’s usually even tough to conclude {that a} product labeled “sustainable trend” really has demonstrably lesser affect.

This perpetuates a notion that we will purchase our manner into sustainability, and that it’s only a matter of buying this factor over that. This isn’t the case. Probably the most sustainable factor by far is to not purchase the factor in any respect.

From Unraveled: The Life and Demise of a Garment, by Maxine Bedat, printed on June 1 by Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random Home, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Maxine Bedat.