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The high price of textile waste colonialism

The Or Foundation and Vestiaire Collective's initiative to reduce the environmental impact of fashion

The high price of textile waste colonialism  The Or Foundation and Vestiaire Collective's initiative to reduce the environmental impact of fashion

According to BOF, about 15 million used garments are shipped to Ghana every week. Most of the unwanted waste comes from the wardrobes of North American, Chinese, and European consumers. Most of these clothes are sold to retailers at the Kantamanto market in Accra, Ghana, a thriving center for the resale, repair, and recycling of old clothes that is one of the largest in the world. But the amount of old clothes sent from global markets continues to increase while their quality deteriorates so that about 40% are thrown away directly, plunging local retailers into debt. Western clothing has filled Accra's landfills to the point where they are as crowded as the Atacama Desert in Chile: some stretches of beach are covered with piles of textiles and plastic more than a meter and a half high. The non-profit organization The Or Foundation and Vestiaire Collective are therefore campaigning for a settlement to resolve a long-standing dispute, namely who should pay for the environmental damage that is largely caused by consumerism in richer countries but has to be borne by poorer countries, which has turned into a veritable colonialism of textile waste.

Although the problem of textile waste has attracted the attention of regulators, the shape of the so-called extended producer responsibility (EPR) is still largely undefined. France, the only country in the world that currently has an EPR program for textiles, has exported 80% of collected clothing by 2021. Refashion, the non-profit organization that oversees the French program has paid €23 million to sort facilities to process discarded clothing, but no money has been distributed to the countries where the clothing ended up. During the COP27 climate summit in November, a last-minute agreement was reached to set up a damage and loss fund to help cover the costs of climate disasters, but the funding and structuring modalities remained rather vague.

To address this lack of clarity, the Or Foundation published a proposal, supported by luxury resale platform Vestiaire Collective, for the creation of a global responsible EPR policy that would incentivize a significant reduction in new garment production. According to the foundation, brands would have to pay a fee of at least USD 0.50 per new garment produced to effectively cover the cost of waste management. This fee could rise to USD 2.50 for the most difficult to dispose of garments, compared to the current maximum of EUR 0.14 under the French system. The program also foresees that funds will be distributed according to the global waste stream, while brands will have to publish detailed information on how much they produce. The goal is to reduce the amount of new clothing produced by 40 percent within five years of an EPR program coming into force. «It's time to come together and say that another way is possible said Dounia Wone, head of sustainability and inclusion at Vestiaire Collective.