A new documentary sheds light on the devastating environmental impact caused by much of the clothes donated to clothing banks and charities in Europe.

Emily Macintosh also explores the efforts to tailor a new European textiles strategy that minimises waste.

With 70% of clothes donated globally shipped to Africa for resale in local markets, the new documentary Textile Mountain explores the impact of increased imports of bales of used clothing to Kenya, known as ‘mitumba’.

In the film, we hear how the quality of the clothing has deteriorated, meaning what cannot be sold by local traders ends up in unregulated dump sites where there is no proper waste management such as Dandora in Nairobi.

This has severe health and environmental repercussions for local communities whose land and water supplies are clogged up with rotting rags which often seep toxic chemicals.

The documentary was produced by the Irish Environmental Network as part of the Wardrobe Change campaign. You can listen to a Q&A chat with the filmmakers on the EEB’s Facebook to find out more about the production of the film and the issues it raised.

Tailoring new policies

The film comes as political discussions about the future of the textile industry are set to intensify in the coming months.

In early March, the European Commission announced it is working on a new EU textile strategy to tackle excessive levels of waste, alongside issues related to labour rights’ and exploitation in the textile industry. The strategy is expected to be published early next year.

70 diverse civil society groups have come together to call for the EU textile strategy to truly re-design the industry’s business model through stricter environmental rules, an end to the culture of unfair purchasing practices and legal obligations on companies to take responsibility for not only their own activities but their whole supply chain.

This week 53 MEPs called on the European Commission to follow the approach taken by the civil society groups in their vision for the future of the global textile industry. In a letter, the MEPs – from across the political spectrum – stress the “need to adopt a truly comprehensive approach that deals with the various issues highlighted in [the] civil society strategy, including human rights, environment, governance, and gender”.

Michal Len, Director of RREUSE, one of the 70 organisations behind the strategy, said: “It is encouraging to see that MEPs recognise the pressing need for a more just, inclusive and sustainable textile sector. Working hand in hand, the social and circular economy can ensure local jobs, better work integration and inclusion as well as sustainable practices including re-use, repair and recycling”.  

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