The dark side of the world’s fashion addiction. Many of our old clothes, donated
to charities, end up in rotting textile mountains in West Africa. This is a story
about how our waste is creating an environmental disaster.
Have you ever thought about what happens to your old clothes after you drop them off at the
op shop? It might be time to start, because these goodwill gestures are helping to fuel an environmental catastrophe on the other side of the world.
When charities in Australia can’t sell donated clothing, tonnes of it ends up being exported to
countries like Ghana, in West Africa. Ship after ship docks every week with bales from Europe,
the US, China and Australia.
They call them ‘Dead White Man’s Clothes’. Once they arrive in Ghana, they’re taken to the
bustling Kantamanto markets in the capital Accra and from here, they make their way to
villages and towns across the country.
The industry provides jobs for thousands of people, like Asare Asamoah, a successful importer.
He brings in clothes, mainly from the United Kingdom, and if they’re good quality, he can make
a decent living.
But it’s risky business. He has to pay upfront for a bale and never knows whether it’s trash or
treasure. With cheap, fast fashion flooding the world, the quality of the clothes arriving in
Ghana is getting worse and worse.
‘Sometimes you’ve gone and bought something, then you don’t get what you want’, says
Asamoah. ‘Then you lose your money.”
And there’s a dark side to this industry.
Correspondent Linton Besser travels to Ghana to uncover the dirty secret behind the world’s
While 60 per cent of imported fashion items are reused and resold, 40 per cent are rubbish,
creating an environmental catastrophe for this poor nation.
With the main dumpsite for textile waste now full, unregulated dumpsites ring the city. These
fetid clothes mountains are often set on fire, filling the skies with acrid smoke.
‘It is totally a disservice to us in this part of the world because we have become sort of the
dumping ground for the textile waste that is produced from Europe, from the Americas”, says
Accra’s waste manager, Solomon Noi.
Emmanuel Ajaab imports used clothes from Australia but he despairs at the poor quality of the
clothes that arrive. From a bale of about 200 garments, he finds only seven he can resell at a
“In Europe and UK and Australia, America, they think Africa here, sorry to say, we are not like a
human being”, he tells Foreign Correspondent.
The dumped textiles also get swept up in the monsoonal rains and end up choking the city’s
waterways and beaches, posing a danger to fishermen and aquatic life. Liz Ricketts, who runs
an NGO campaigning for awareness of Ghana’s textile waste crisis, lays the blame at the feet
of international fashion houses.
“Waste is a part of the business model of fashion. A lot of brands overproduce by up to 40 per
cent”, says Ricketts.
Noi begs the people who donate their clothes to think twice about where they end up.
“If they come here, like you’ve come, and you see the practicality for yourself, then they will
know that, no, we better take care of these things within our country and not to ship that
problem to cause problems to other people.”
About Foreign Correspondent:
Foreign Correspondent is the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC-TV. We produce half-hour duration in-depth reports for broadcast across the ABC’s television channels and digital platforms. Since 1992, our teams have journeyed to more than 170 countries to report on war, natural calamity and social and political upheaval – through the eyes of the people at the heart of it all.