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Fishermen walking across the refuse along Accra’s coastline. 

Fishermen walking across the refuse along Accra’s coastline. 

Photographer: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Bloomberg
New Economy

Fast-Fashion Waste Is Choking Developing Countries With Mountains of Trash

Less than 1% of used clothing gets recycled into new garments, overwhelming countries like Ghana with discards.


Tangled coils of waterlogged clothes roll like carcasses in the waves along the coast of Ghana, one of the world’s biggest importers of used clothing. The castoffs arriving by the bale are known here as obroni wawu, or dead White people’s clothes, a phrase in the local Twi language that seeks to assign a reason to the inexplicable flood of garments from overseas. Surely their owners wouldn’t choose to throw away so much clothing?

At Chorkor beach, near the capital Accra, layer upon layer of rich-country detritus forms a wall more than 6 feet high, like geological strata from different fashion eras. A Crocs sandal peeps out here, a blue Ralph Lauren polo shirt there, a red Victoria’s Secret bra some way down. So solid is the putrid heap that huts sit on top, a shantytown built quite literally on a foundation of rags.