According to the Environment Agency EEA, the number of used textiles exported from the EU has tripled within two decades. In a report published today, the EU authority warned that Europe was facing major challenges when dealing with these textiles. Because the capacities for reuse and recycling in Europe are limited, a large part of the discarded and donated clothing is exported to Africa and Asia.
"The public perception that donations of used clothing are always useful in these regions does not reflect reality," the environmental experts write. "Once exported, the fate of used textiles is often uncertain."
Tons of junk
In the year 2000 around 550,000 tons of textiles were exported. In 2019 it was almost 1.7 million tons. That corresponds to an average of 3.8 kilograms per person.
46 percent of the used textiles ended up in Africa. "The textiles are mainly reused locally because there is a demand for cheap, used clothing from Europe," the environment agency reported. Anything that cannot be reused ends up in open landfills, for example.
According to the information, around 41 percent of the used textiles initially came to Asia in 2019, where they were sorted and processed at central locations. Most are either used as fabric or padding for industry, or sent to other Asian countries for recycling or to Africa for reuse. "Textiles that cannot be recycled or exported are likely to end up in landfills."