A waste picker stands in the landfill at Dandora in Nairobi, Kenya. The Changing Markets Foundation
Acrid smoke constantly billows from the mountains of trash at Kenya’s biggest landfill, where something is almost always burning due to the combustible mix of methane and chemicals.
Despite having been declared full in 2001, roughly 4,000 metric tons of waste from Nairobi is plowed into the Dandora dumpsite daily. Clothing, packed layers deep, like a geological record of quick-changing fashion trends, is everywhere. Some can still be identified by their labels—H&M or Nike, perhaps, or even Yves Saint Laurent. But there are items that are impossible to peg. Most of them are synthetic in origin, meaning they’re derived from polyester, acrylic or nylon. In various stages of colorful decay, they are not so much littered across the landscape as part of it.
Dandora in Nairobi, much like the beaches of Accra in Ghana and Chile’s Atacama Desert, wrote Changing Markets Foundation in its latest report, entitled “Trashion: The Stealth Export of Waste Plastic Clothes to Kenya,” has become “ground zero” for the scourge of fossil-fuel fashion, something that the corporate watchdog has been sounding the klaxon over for the past few years.
It’s the overreliance on fibers made from oil and gas, said campaign manager George Harding-Rolls at a press briefing Thursday, that enables “what we call the backbone of fast fashion” and the problems so many garments create at the end of their useful lives. Synthetic fibers today represent 69 percent of all textile production. By 2030, their number will make up at least 73 percent. And it’s places in the global South, like Dandora, that have become an “escape valve” for the overconsumption of apparel in the global North, which sends its castoffs “away,” often on the pretext of charity or circularity.