EU eyes cuts to textile waste, riling secondhand sellers

By Marianne Gros | 05/06/2024 12:45 PM EDT

Tougher export rules risk hurting countries with major secondhand markets.

People shop at the second-hand clothes section of Gikomba Market in Nairobi.

People shop at the second-hand clothes section of Gikomba Market in Nairobi on Sept. 29, 2023. Gikomba is the largest open-air market in Kenya and one of the largest second-hand clothes markets in East Africa. Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

EU countries want to stop their discarded clothes from clogging landfills outside the bloc — but a number of countries, including Kenya, warn that doing so will harm the local trade in secondhand fabrics.

France, Sweden and Denmark are asking the EU to back their call to change global rules on textile exports under the Basel Convention and thereby tackle the bloc’s growing textile pollution problem. The amount of used fabrics exported from the bloc has tripled over the past two decades, reaching almost 1.7 million tons in 2019.

Under the proposal, companies in the EU looking to export textile waste — clothes deemed too degraded or stained to be resold — would have to give more information about the content of shipments, while importing countries would have to prove the waste is being disposed of correctly.


But traders in used textiles in developing countries, including Kenya, are warning that the stricter rules are too broad and will also limit exports of high-quality textiles — hurting local businesses that resell the clothes on secondhand markets outside the EU.