Skip to content

From Sidmouth’s charity shops to Accra’s second-hand clothes market

  • by JW

“Wasteland”: the dirty truth about what we throw away, where it goes, and why it matters [by Oliver Franklin-Wallis]

“The solution to our waste problem is, ultimately, simple: we should just buy less stuff!” [Physics World]


The hugely influential video from over a decade ago by Annie Leonard looked at ‘The Story of Stuff’: “There is no such thing as ‘away’. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere” The Story of Stuff – YouTube

A more recent video focussed on ‘The Textile Mountain: the hidden burden of our fashion waste’: We need to “re-imagine the way the way we design, wear and reuse our clothes – so that our fashion waste no longer becomes another country’s burden.” Where does most of our fast fashion end up? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

A correspondent notes that there is yet “another article about our fast fashion addiction and its consequences for others…” – this time from the weekend’s Daily Mail:

Consider: only between ten and 30 per cent of second-hand donations to charity shops are resold in store. The rest disappears into a vast sorting apparatus to be graded and sold on to commercial partners, often for export.

In the UK, 70 per cent of used clothing is exported. That amounted to more than 395,000 tons in 2018, cumulatively worth £451 million. the largest second-hand clothes market in Ghana, where 30,000 traders cram into seven claustrophobic acres in the heart of the city. Hundreds of bales of old clothes arrive in Accra’s Kantamanto market daily to be sorted and sold. Over an entrance is a sign that says ‘Obroni wawu’ (Dead white man’s clothes). Unable to compete with the flood of cheap goods into Africa, local textile manufacturing sectors collapsed, unable to compete on price with a product better-off people were throwing away.

Adapted from Wasteland: The Dirty Truth About What We Throw Away, Where It Goes, And Why It Matters, by Oliver Franklin-Wallis

The dirty truth behind what happens to that dress you give to a charity shop | Daily Mail Online

Here’s a review of the book:

Wasteland ‘does not hide from the difficulty of finding solutions to any of the problems discussed. But it does not offer an entirely negative message either. Despite many failures and the pernicious effects of greenwashing, we learn that recycling can work: 80% of the copper ever mined, for example, is still in circulation. However, Franklin-Wallis argues that the solution to our waste problem is, ultimately, simple: we should just buy less stuff!

Thrown away: what is the real impact of our waste? – Physics World

And this is from the publisher:

“There are stories in all our discarded things: who made them, what they meant to a person before they were thrown away. In the end, it all ends up in the same place – the endless ingenuity of humanity in one filthy, fascinating mass.

When we throw things ‘away’, what does that actually mean? Where does it go, and who deals with it when it gets there? In ‘Wasteland’, award-winning journalist Oliver Franklin-Wallis takes us on an eye-opening journey through the global waste industry. From the mountainous landfills of New Delhi to Britain’s overflowing sewers, from hollowed-out mining towns in the USA to Ghana’s flooded second-hand markets, we meet the people on the frontline of our waste crisis – both those being exploited, and those determined to make a difference. On the way, we discover the corporate greenwashing that started the recycling movement; the dark truth behind our second-hand donations; and come face to face with the 10,000-year legacy of our nuclear waste.

Both shocking and hopeful, ‘Wasteland’ is the timely and ultimately human story at the heart of an urgent global issue.

Wasteland | Book by Oliver Franklin-Wallis | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster UK

The question is, then: How much of the stuff we give to the many charity shops on Sidmouth’s high street is sent off to another corner of the world to deal with?

What Happens to Your Used Clothing Donations | Reader’s Digest

The Truth About What Happens to Donated Clothes

The hidden trade in our second-hand clothes given to charity | Guardian sustainable business | The Guardian

Where does clothing end up? Modern colonialism disguised as donation : Fashion Revolution

Finally, though, there are things you can do:

Charity Shop Donations: How To Make Sure They Don’t End Up As Landfill | Glamour UK