France, Denmark, and Sweden have jointly proposed stringent limitations on the export of second-hand garments (mitumba) to Kenya, a move poised to significantly impact the East African nation heavily reliant on such apparel imports.

Citing concerns over exacerbating pollution in the region, the European trio contends that the exportation of second-hand garments often culminates in their disposal in landfills.

A study conducted last year on second-hand clothing in Nairobi revealed that a minimum of one to two percent of imported bales ultimately end up as waste.

Advocating for adherence to the Basel Convention on used textiles, the proposal seeks to bar the export of hazardous textile waste and necessitate prior informed consent for importing such waste.

“The export of textile waste from the EU to developing countries causes significant environmental, social, and health problems. The EU has to put an end to this practice,” remarked Soren Jacobsen, Denmark’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, during an Environment Council meeting in Brussels on Monday, as reported by Reuters.

The surge in reuse driven by environmental concerns in the Western world has led to a decline in the influx of high-quality items to Africa. Consequently, the majority of current imports comprise inexpensive Chinese clothes, further exacerbating the importation of waste.

Kenya stands as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest importers of second-hand clothing, having imported 185,000 tonnes of “mitumba” in 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Institute of Economic Affairs. Notably, recent figures indicate a stark rise to 1.4 million tonnes as of 2022, as per UN Trade statistics.

The proposed inclusion of used clothing in the Basel Convention aims to curtail, if not halt entirely, exports of such garments from the EU. Instead, it aims to foster the development of textile recycling within the bloc.

The contentious issue of banning “mitumba” garments has sparked debates, with some quarters attributing it to the demise of the local cotton industry.

Opponents argue that since the advent of second-hand clothing in Kenya, cotton production has plummeted to a mere 7,000 tonnes annually currently, from a potential 200,000 tonnes witnessed in early 80s.

Consequently, the nation resorts to importing approximately 11,000 tonnes of cotton from neighboring countries annually to bridge the export gap of 200,000 tonnes.