Ghana’s Kantamanto market is the largest secondhand market in the world. It sits on over 20 acres of real estate in the centre of Accra, on land that was once owned by Indigenous people before it was ‘re-assigned’ by the colonial government. Today, this space is occupied by an endless stream of foreign material, in the form of discarded clothes and textiles.
The impact that Kantamanto has on the health and wellbeing of local communities is devastating. The market currently imports nearly 15 million garments every week — most of it from the Global North — and 40% of which usually end up as waste. Over the years, the breakneck speed of this disposable cycle has decimated the Ghanaian textile sector and put massive pressure on the country’s waste management systems.
At the same time, Kantamanto is one of the most sustainable retail ecosystems in the world. This sprawling market is the largest resale and upcycling economy on our planet, with 30,000 individual entrepreneurs working together to recirculate over 25 million garments per month. But no amount of resourcefulness and creativity can (or should) make up for the inequalities that fuel the global waste trade. How can we reconcile these two realities in a way that leads to real and lasting system change?
“We are demanding that the Kantamanto community be given the respect they are owed and the resources they deserve.” — The Stop Waste Colonialism campaign
FROM CONSUMERS TO CITIZENS
Aiming to shed light on this issue is a powerful new campaign by The Or Foundation, titled Stop Waste Colonialism. Working at the intersection of environmental justice, education and fashion development, the Foundation was initiated by a group of creative activists based in Ghana and the United States. They describe their mission as being about finding ‘alternatives to the dominant model of fashion’ and exploring ways to manifest them to ‘bring forth ecological prosperity (as opposed to destruction) and to inspire citizens to form a relationship with fashion that extends beyond their role as consumer.’
The Stop Waste Colonialism campaign was launched in February in an effort to call for collective acknowledgement and accountability towards this issue. The immediate goal is to raise support for an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programme for textiles. EPR policies are a form of product stewardship that extends a producer’s responsibility to consider the entire life-cycle of their products, including what happens to them after they reach the consumer.
Right now there are over 400 EPR programmes globally — but they are often focused on things like household electronics, vehicles and packaging. Passing a global EPR for textiles would be game-changing for the fashion industry, which is already one of the most resource-intensive sectors in the world. It would act as a clear signal for producers to stop externalising the cost of their waste management ‘downstream’, and start taking accountability for their impact on communities like Kantamanto.
‘When it comes to addressing waste colonialism, Globally Accountable EPR is only one step of many — but it is absolutely necessary,’ explains the team behind the campaign. ‘It gives frontline communities like Kantamanto the agency to invest in the future and until this is done, circularity will not be grounded in reality and will repeat the exploitative patterns of the linear economy.’
Besides driving legislative change, The Or Foundation also hopes to raise awareness and discussion about waste colonialism through a number of different media campaigns. In November 2022 for example, the team partnered with Vestiaire Collective to organise a meeting in Paris between a Kantamanto Delegation of 15 people (including retailers and tailors) and representatives from European organisations like Refashion and the Ministry of Ecological Transition. They also brought those same delegates to popular stores like H&M and Decathlon, to see for themselves how fast-fashion is being sold and consumed in some of the world’s wealthiest countries. They filmed their reflections and takeaways from the experience, and the resulting videos are a must-watch for truly anyone who has ever bought or binned a piece of clothing.
What else could you do to support the project?
First, you can read the Stop Waste Colonialism position paper and stand in solidarity with Kantamanto by registering here. You can also share their work on social media, and stay tuned for more specific info sessions and calls to action coming soon. ‘We plan to release additional statements and research, delving into the nuances of the position paper and the mechanics of implementation,’ reveals the team. ‘Right now, our focus is on making sure that Kantamanto is heard before additional EPR policies are established, while also continuing with our many programmes on the ground in Accra.’
Visit the Stop Waste Colonialism website here.
All images by The Or Foundation and Stop Waste Colonialism. Top image shows portraits of Alice Gyamina, Nutifafa Mensah and John Opoku Agyemang, who are part of the project as tailors, retailers and entrepreneurs of Kantamanto.