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This landfill was supposed to stay open for 25 years. It filled up in 6.

By Nisha Khater

Walk through the Kpone landfill in Accra, Ghana, and you’ll end up traversing mountain after mountain of clothing. A mangled Adidas tennis shoe to your left. Walk a few more steps and you see a Marc Jacobs dust bag peeking out from under a trash bag. These pieces are the clothes that we haul to our local Goodwills, picturing a dedicated shopper getting a great deal on items we previously loved. But reality is not as kind to our clothing.

There’s a big misconception among most Americans that the majority of the clothes we donate end up being reused and circulated through the economy. The truth is quite the opposite. Goodwills, Salvation Armys and local thrift shops are overflowing with the clothing brought in by U.S. consumers. Only 20% of these clothes get sold at U.S. stores, while the majority get exported overseas, travel through secondhand markets in other countries, and most likely end up in a landfill such as Kpone. These clothes we discard are overwhelming communities and spreading pollution, and we need to try and do what we can to help reverse the negative effects our consumption has led to.

The highest act of sustainability is not consuming at all, but there are also other ways to be mindful that still have a large impact. We can avoid liking the huge Shein hauls on TikTok. We can use Beni, a Chrome extension that helps find secondhand alternatives to the clothes we’re already shopping for. We can see if there are local clothing drive to take our clothes instead of Goodwills that may be overwhelmed. If we do need to buy something new, we can spend a few minutes looking up the ethical labor practices and sustainability mission a brand employs. These incremental habit changes are small modifications in our lives, but when they are done in numbers it can make a world of a difference for Kpone and places like it.

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