Textile Waste in GhanaAccording to The Guardian, the Kantomanto Market in Accra, Ghana, receives more than 100 tonnes of textile waste daily. This excessive waste is taking a toll on the local population, severely impacting their livelihoods.

The Source of the Crisis

The crisis originates largely from Western nations, with the fast fashion industry exacerbating the problem. According to the Australian broadcasting company, people in developed countries are buying 60% more clothes than they did 15 years ago, leading to an estimated 85% of all textiles ending up in dumps annually.

According to The Guardian, Ghana holds the title of the world’s largest importer of secondhand clothing, with approximately 15 million items imported each week, amounting to $214 million (£171 million) worth of used clothes imported solely in 2021. Within an average bale of secondhand clothing, around 40% is classified as waste, resulting in the daily disposal of 100 tonnes of unsellable clothes. Although the city manages to eliminate 30% of this textile waste, the remaining 70% is illegally dumped, inflicting severe environmental damage upon rivers and seas.

The Effects on The Ghanaian People

These dumps are causing havoc not only to the local economy but also to the people of the region’s food supply. Fisherman Kofi Sarpong, speaking to Forbes Africa explained how the textile waste is ruining local economies like fishing stating, “We cannot survive”.

Speaking at the ChangeNOW conference in May 2023, Solomon Noi, director of waste management for Accra metropolitan assembly, made a plea for action, describing the plight of Ghanaians in the region, many of whom rely on fishing for both their livelihoods and food supply.

According to a report by the Bank of Ghana, around 10% of the Ghanaian population relies on fishing for their livelihood and the average Ghanaian receives 60% of their protein intake from fish.

Alongside polluting the rivers and damaging nets, the size of the dumps is beginning to make it impossible for fishermen to even reach the water, wreaking havoc on the Ghanaian people’s ability to sustain themselves and pushing people deeper into poverty. It is not merely the ability to fish that is being affected, but the supply of edible fish itself.

In April 2021, a shocking incident occurred in the region, leading to mass deaths of fish. The government’s response to the situation was conflicting, with some suggesting it was a mere coincidence, but also warning people against consuming the affected fish. The University of Ghana’s Ecological Lab took the initiative to conduct studies, revealing alarming levels of cobalt, copper and cadmium in the fish. The OR Foundation’s report on the matter indicates that while the data doesn’t point to a specific origin of the underlying conditions, it does suggest the presence of a hostile aquatic environment.

Ongoing Efforts

Change is indeed on the horizon, as a collective effort is underway to address the pressing issue of “fashion’s waste crisis,” as highlighted by The Or Foundation.

The EU took a significant step in March 2022 by launching the ‘Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles.’ This forward-thinking initiative aims to combat over-consumption and over-production by promoting resource-efficient manufacturing processes and circular business models. The ultimate goal is to prevent the projected surge in textile waste by 2030, resulting from increased textile production.

In Ghana, the Kantamanto traders took an active role in seeking a solution. In May of this year, they submitted a proposal to the European Environment Bureau (EEB) urging clothing producers to contribute 44p per item to the EEB. A significant portion of the raised funds, at least 10%, would be directed toward resolving the damage caused by the industry. Alongside this, on May 16, 2023, campaigner Yvette Tetteh finished swimming the length of the Volta River in Ghana to raise awareness of the pollution in its waters and the damage textile waste in Ghana is causing to communities in the region.

Looking Ahead

While removing fast fashion entirely from modern Western culture may seem like an insurmountable challenge, the focus on avoiding fast fashion brands offers hope for change. By championing policies like the one suggested by Kantamanto retailers to the EEB and the EU’s continued commitment to reducing textile waste, there is a chance of controlling the destructive footprint of this industry. This, in turn, can improve the living conditions of millions of people worldwide and make a positive impact on the planet.

– Henry Tuppens
Photo: Flickr

Fashion Waste and Poverty
Infinited Fiber is a Finnish start-up company developing new clothing from old materials. The impact of waste management for textiles is more than $1 billion annually, and garment workers globally receive, at best, mediocre pay. Infinited Fiber strives to create longer-lasting clothes to reduce textile waste while paying garment workers appropriate salaries. Longer-lasting clothes will be more cost-effective for the individual and help with the more significant issues of fashion waste management and poverty, including the ever-rising costs in the clothing market.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

Fashion waste and poverty are significant problems in the fashion industry that Infinited Fiber is tackling. Garment workers are incredibly subject to poverty while working in the fashion industry. There is an overwhelming wage gap between garment workers and their company’s CEOs. The Industry We Want, an organization fighting for fair wages for garment workers, found significant wage gaps between the workers’ earnings and what they should be earning. Globally, garment workers earn only about 55% of the wages they need to have a living wage.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the treatment of garment workers worsened. Many garment workers went extended periods without receiving any compensation. When in-person shopping stopped globally, many factories paused operations, leaving the garment workers destitute. In those factories, garment workers deal with poverty regularly due to the economic status of their home countries. Still, the stopped income left them facing starvation. Fashion waste and poverty do not end with garment workers. Unfortunately, their poverty and economic struggles are a large portion of why Infinited Fiber seeks new techniques and practices in the fashion industry.

Devastating Fashion Waste and “Fast Fashion”

“Fast fashion” is cheap, easy-to-produce fashion that often goes to waste quickly. Fast fashion is a sector of the fashion market that employs exceptionally cheap labor. This form of fashion marketing took over the global-fashion market when large-name brands like Zara and Forever 21 began expanding business operations. Fast fashion proved to be a profitable market, causing fashion industry markets to see substantial increases in generated income. Despite the promising outlook of fast fashion, due to the quick turnaround in products, the industry will likely see decreases of up to $52 billion in profits due to waste management and textile losses. Management for textile waste costs up to $100 billion annually.

One of the methods for waste management that will also cut costs globally for waste management is transforming the clothing production process. There are calls to improve recycling methods for textiles, beginning with policymakers. Textile recycling is an expanding market for investment in the fashion industry. As of 2021, the textile recycling industry had a value of $4.5 billion in 2021, with expectations for fast economic growth. Thankfully, textile recycling also reduces the costs of dealing with textile waste management. While textile waste costs continue to mount and landfills fill up rapidly, textile recycling benefits all involved by taking the wasted textiles, cleaning them and repurposing them workers create a new product. The repurposed textiles save money in landfill and textile waste management and create new job opportunities as textile recycling grows in popularity. Infinite Fiber’s goal is to end the cycle of fashion waste and poverty through textile recycling.

Infinited Fiber’s Goal to Ending the Cycle of Fashion Poverty

The company’s founder and CEO, Petri Alava, hopes the clothing the company produces will be low-cost for the consumer, long-lasting and reduce textile waste. The company creates “circular fibers” by taking old materials, cleaning them and breaking them down to a polymeric level. The process requires fewer chemicals and leaves less waste than the typical processes of fast fashion.

Infinite Fiber is partnering with large-name brands, such as H&M and Inditex. Inditex is Zara’s parent company and is known not to pay its garment workers a fair wage. As the company is expanding and creating its partnerships, Infinite Fiber is receiving significant investment opportunities that are proving beneficial to the company, and its workers, while spreading its influence of eliminating fashion waste and poverty.

Infinite Fiber recently signed a new deal to develop a partnership with Patagonia, a U.S.-based clothing retailer with operations worldwide. One of the keys to operating with Patagonia is that Patagonia implements safety precautions that many garment factories do not. Patagonia also pays its garment workers fair wages. The connections Infinited Fiber makes with companies like Patagonia prove its commitment to a “Fair Trade” life with improved wages and social and economic improvement is on the horizon globally.

Infinite Fiber’s work creating new textiles is becoming a global operation, presenting job opportunities everywhere the company reaches. In Brazil, Infinite fiber’s work to erase fashion waste and poverty involves taking wood pulp and turning it into new textiles. The company’s goal is to slash fashion waste and poverty that result from waste. Infinite Fiber is dedicated to improving the quality of the fashion industry, which comes with living wages for all workers, minimal waste, and job opportunities worldwide.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr