An Evaluation of the Socio-Economic and Environmental Impact of the Secondhand Clothes Trade in Ghana

This report released by Ghana Used Clothing Dealers Association has underscored the significant and positive socioeconomic impact of the second-hand clothing trade. It serves as a vital source of employment, generates revenue for the government to support public programs, and provides livelihood opportunities for millions of people, all while holding environmental promise. The level of second-hand waste in bales has been found to be on average at most 5%, with 73% of traders receiving 0-4% of waste in their imported bales and 11% claiming to never receive any waste at all. Textile waste in Accra has been estimated to be between 1.7 and 2.2% of all waste, with used clothing comprising a minor share. Rather than posing an environmental concern, the trade should be embraced as Ghana’s commitment to a circular economy.

This report has utilized primary data collected from various stakeholders, including traders, importers, consumers, waste pickers, and government officials, along with secondary data and a comprehensive literature review to provide a comprehensive overview of the second-hand clothing trade. From the strict import process relayed by importers to self-reporting on waste by traders, combined with consumer perceptions, it is evident that the media’s portrayal of the second-hand clothes trade does not accurately reflect the experiences of those involved in the trade as buyers or sellers.

The economic impact of the second-hand clothing market is multifaceted, significantly contributing to employment opportunities, stimulating commerce, and positively impacting household budgets. Stakeholders recognize the trade’s role in providing budget-friendly options, unique fashion choices, and sustainable alternatives to fast fashion. Policies and standards play a crucial role in regulating textile waste recycling and management, emphasizing recycling, reducing landfill waste, and raising awareness.

The second-hand clothing industry in Ghana could play a crucial role in advancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 13, 14, and 15, emphasizing climate action, life below water, and life on land, respectively. Through a sustainable approach to fashion consumption, the industry actively contributes to reducing the carbon footprint associated with the production of new clothing (SDG 13). By extending the life of garments, the sector aligns with SDG 14 by indirectly mitigating microfiber pollution and protecting marine life. Furthermore, efforts in salvaging usable parts from clothing items contribute to SDG 15, aiming to conserve terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity.

Recommendations for further aligning the second-hand clothing industry in Ghana with SDGs 13, 14, and 15 include promoting recycling programs, community engagement initiatives, consumer education campaigns, government and industry collaboration, and the further enhancement of circular economy principles. These measures aim to enhance the positive environmental impact of the industry, reduce carbon emissions, protect marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and promote responsible consumption and waste management.

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