Donated synthetic 2nd hand clothes creating environmental hazard for Kenyans

Category: Top Stories


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. second-hand / ˈsɛk ənd hænd / (adj.) – relating to something that is owned and used by someone else in the past

    I bought a second-hand car because I don’t have enough money to buy a brand-new one.

  2. scar / skɑr / (v.) – to damage something and make it ugly

    There’s a lot of trash on the beach. It scars the scenery.

  3. bale / beɪl / (n.) – a large amount of material, such as hay, paper, or cloth that is tied or wrapped together

    The fire victims received a package that contains a bale of clothes.

  4. disposal / dɪˈspoʊ zəl / (n.) – the act of getting rid of something by throwing it away

    The local government always reminds the public about proper waste disposal.

  5. contemporary / kənˈtɛm pəˌrɛr i / (adj.) – modern

    The fashion show featured a lot of contemporary clothes, shoes, and bags.


Read the text below.

Environmental campaigners are demanding action to tackle the mountains of low-grade second-hand clothes in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The groups say most of the used garments come from the EU, but they’re of such poor quality that half of what arrives is ending up in landfill and polluting rivers. Landfills like this scar the Nairobi landscape. According to environmentalist groups in Kenya, many of these sites are effectively filled with synthetic fabrics from second-hand clothes donated from overseas. They say the clothes are mostly from the EU – donated to charities after they’ve already had second-, and perhaps, third-hand use.

By the time the bales of clothes arrive, they are effectively only fit for the rubbish dumps. The claims are made in a report by the Changing Markets Foundation, which is based on findings by the groups Wildlight and Clean Up Kenya.

The exporting of plastic waste is restricted under the Basel Convention, a voluntary agreement called the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. But the Changing Markets report says a third of the old clothes shipped to Kenya through the port of Mombasa contain plastic and are of too poor quality to be worn.

The scale of the problem is increasing according to the group Clean Up Kenya. Its founder, Betterman Simidi, says the problem is that the market for second-hand clothes has become less about charity and more about big business. He says that because so many contemporary clothes are made with synthetic fibers, they take a long time to degrade and risk contaminating the local environment.

Edward Mungai, a sustainability researcher at Strathmore University says the manufacturers should be made legally responsible for the sustainable disposal of their clothes.

Benard Nguyo, Director of Quality Assurance and Inspection at the Kenya Bureau of Standards says the government is already taking steps to crack down on hazardous imports.

Existing laws require imported bales to be packaged transparently to allow traders to see the contents before purchasing. Also, the Kenya Bureau of Standards contracts independent companies overseas to inspect the clothes at ports before they’re exported.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • The second-hand clothes are actually intended to be given to charities, but the bales of clothes are only fit for rubbish dumps, according to the Changing Markets Foundation. If you were a citizen of Kenya, how would this issue make you feel? Would you join environmental campaigners? Discuss.
  • Environmental campaigners are demanding action on the low-grade second-hand clothes from the EU that scar the Nairobi landscape. Do you think the EU should be reprimanded and punished for doing so? Do you think Kenya can impose a punishment on the EU? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • According to Simidi, so many contemporary clothes are made with synthetic fibers. Does this bother you? Why or why not? As a consumer, which do you prefer, clothes made with synthetic fibers or those made with sustainable materials? Discuss.
  • With many contemporary clothes being made with synthetic fibers, what do you think would be a good way to dispose of them when they are no longer needed? Discuss.