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Giant piles of Britain's unwanted clothes wash up on Ghana's beaches

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Giant piles of Britain's unwanted clothes wash up on Ghana's beaches

Viewed from above, the criss-cross lines and muddled colours almost look like a work of abstract art. But the problem they pose is very real - and getting worse.

This is the ultimate fate of thousands of tons of second-hand clothing - most of it from the UK - which ends up clogging beaches and waterways in Accra, the capital of Ghana. 

Donated by well-meaning Westerners, the garments - known locally as 'Obroni W'awu' or 'dead white man's clothes' - are bought in bulk by locals hoping to uncover a few good-quality finds they can re-sell amongst the bundles they are sent. 

Anything they cannot flog on stalls in the nearby Kantamanto Market is dumped on a 30ft-high mound on the banks of the the Odaw River, from where it washes into nearby Korle Lagoon and then on to the sea.

Aid groups estimate as much as 40 per cent of clothing that arrives in Ghana is wasted like this. And the problem is getting worse as trend-conscious youngsters with not much money to spend increasingly fill their wardrobes with low-quality fast fashion items.

Tons of used clothing - much of it from the UK - washes up on the beach of a fishing community in Accra, the capital of Ghana, after it was dumped by local traders
 Provided by Daily MailTons of used clothing - much of it from the UK - washes up on the beach of a fishing community in Accra, the capital of Ghana, after it was dumped by local traders
 
Korle Lagoon, which sits close to the slum of Old Fadama where most of Accra's second-hand traders operate, has been clogged with discarded clothes which also wash into the ocean and on to beaches (pictured)
 Provided by Daily MailKorle Lagoon, which sits close to the slum of Old Fadama where most of Accra's second-hand traders operate, has been clogged with discarded clothes which also wash into the ocean and on to beaches (pictured)
 
A Ghanaian local walks among piles of rotting and discarded clothes in James Town fishing harbour after the low-quality garments were discarded by local traders
 Provided by Daily MailA Ghanaian local walks among piles of rotting and discarded clothes in James Town fishing harbour after the low-quality garments were discarded by local traders
 
Fishing vessels are harboured on-shore in front of piles of rotting clothing washed into the ocean after it was dumped from Kantamanto Market, Ghana's largest second-hand clothes market
 Provided by Daily MailFishing vessels are harboured on-shore in front of piles of rotting clothing washed into the ocean after it was dumped from Kantamanto Market, Ghana's largest second-hand clothes market

Britain is the world's second-largest exporter of used clothing, largely thanks to the fact that we recycle 70 per cent of our clothes - one of the highest rates of any nation.

Most of what we end up exporting is donated to charity shops or placed into recycling bins or bags by well-meaning locals thinking they are doing a good turn.

Around half is re-sold locally, but anything left over ends up being exported: Wrapped up in huge bales and sold for as little as £100-per-tonne to anyone willing to take it. 

Much of that ends up in Ghana, where local traders bought more than $80million-worth of used British clothes last year alone - the single-largest export market. Ukraine and Poland sit second and third, around $55million each.  

The reception centre for that clothing is Old Fadama, a slum in the centre of Accra, where locals unwrap the bundles and sort through them for anything worth reselling.

Anything valuable is taken to Kantamanto Market - a sprawl of tents, stalls and shops housing 30,000 traders that was once the largest second-hand market in western Africa.

The hope is that there will be enough sellable items in each bundle to justify its cost, and provide enough left over to eek out a meagre living. 

But much of what they are sent is trash: Either worn to the point it cannot be re-used, or one-off items that nobody else wants like hen party t-shirts or novelty sports kit.

Increasingly, the bundles are made up of low-quality fast-fashion - of the kind hawked by Chinese firm Shein, but also by the likes of Primark, Boohoo, and H&M - who target trend-savvy young people on a budget.

© Provided by Daily MailBritain exports more second-hand clothing than any other country, and most of it end up in Ghana - where around 40 per cent is deemed to be such poor quality that it cannot be sold and is simply dumped

A mound of discarded clothing, much of which comes from the UK, is seen washed up on a beach in Accra, Ghana
 Provided by Daily MailA mound of discarded clothing, much of which comes from the UK, is seen washed up on a beach in Accra, Ghana
 

'We are having serious challenges with textile waste that is coming from Europe and elsewhere but our headache is the full containers coming daily, and they are basically rubbish,' Solomon Noi - the politician in charge of Accra's waste services - told The Ghana Report back in February 2020.  

Liz Ricketts, co-founder of The OR Foundation which is working to address the problem, said around the same time: 'The textile mountain is an environmental catastrophe.

'Too much clothing is being manufactured because of fast fashion, and a lot of it isn't made for a second life. Traders constantly reference the fabric as not being of good quality. They can't sell it and so it ends up being thrown away.'

Aside from the giant mountains of rotting garments building up on beaches and rivers, the trade is harming Ghana in others ways.

Trading used clothes may provide tens of thousands of people with jobs, but they are largely insecure, low-paid and condemn sellers to lives spent in Accra's slums.

Meanwhile, it devastates Ghana's own textile and design sectors because local traders cannot compete with the deluge of cheap clothing coming in from overseas.

Dr Andrew Brooks, author of the book Clothing Poverty, found the number of Ghanaians employed in the textile and clothing sectors fell by 80 per cent between 1975 and 2000 as clothing donations boomed.

 
Discarded clothes clog a fishing beach in the city of Accra, capital of Ghana, after being dumped by local traders
Provided by Daily MailDiscarded clothes clog a fishing beach in the city of Accra, capital of Ghana, after being dumped by local traders 

Reference: Chris Pleasance for MailOnline -

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