Possible I suppose but it does sound unlikely

So, charity shops send the stuff they can’t sell off to Africa etc. OK. But the volume might not be quite this much:

Fifteen million pieces of discarded clothing arrive in vast bales every week at Kantamanto, the biggest bazaar in Ghana, where a glut of cast-offs chokes rivers, wasteground and landfill sites.

Times subs might want to check that number.

For example, and this is rather rough, 3,000 t-shirts to a pallet, 20 pallets to a 40 ft container (no double stacking). Used goods are unlikely to be that tightly packed but still, at least an idea.

60,000 t-shirts to a container. 15 million pieces is 250 containers? A week? I think that’s rather unlikely, running through the one wholesale market in Ghana? 40 odd 40 ft containers a working day?

Well, could be, but it’s a number I’d check I think.

And if it’s true of course think how many Africans are gaining their clothing for cheap, raising their real incomes!

And there’s definitely something funny with these numbers. We’re told:

According to the UN, the UK is the world’s second largest exporter of second-hand clothes. In 2018, £419 million worth were sold overseas,


The rest are sold on to used clothing dealers or recycling companies, which give the charities about 45p per kilo.

Packed in bundles weighing between 50 and 90kg, the clothes are then shipped to Ghana and elsewhere,

OK. Now, the impression there at least is given that those bundles amount to £419 million’s worth. At 45 p per kg. For ease of calculation call that 50p per kg, £500 per tonne. 838,000 tonnes a year of used clothing? 130 kg per man, boy and bird in the country? Don’t think so somehow, the UK really isn’t exporting that much.

As to the solution if it is, there’s energy in cotton, wool, plastics. Build an incinerator producing electricity next to the market and pay a penny a pound or whatever for scraps delivered to it.

11 thoughts on “Possible I suppose but it does sound unlikely”

  1. ‘And if it’s true of course think how many Africans are gaining their clothing for cheap, raising their real incomes!’

    Charity stifles industry. Western charity does sub Saharan Africans no favor.

  2. It is possible that the recycling companies pay 45p a kilo for stuff that cannot be sold second-hand and the good stuff is sold at half the price the store paid for it (quarter the price the customer paid). Then the £419m only corresponds to £1.676bn at new price or £27 per UK resident. Maybe the Charity shops sell all the good stuff and their rejects sell at, on average, one-quarter of that one-quarter – then we’re up to £6.7bn or £108 per UK resident. Women’s clothing sales in UK was £58.3bn in 2018, so £419m exports is plausible being less than 1% of the value of clothes purchased by women each year. The tonnage in Ghana, however, is *not* believable.

  3. Gamecock,

    Charity stifles industry, yes. But the clothes we donate are in fact sold in Africa, not given away.

    For comparison, does the market for second-hand cars stifle the new car industry?

  4. Historically, onee of the ways that low wage economies have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps is through the textile industry.
    Look at our own history of Lancashire mills, or those in Vietnam, Bangladesh or China.
    By dumping vast quantities of used good from charities on Africa, we have destroyed many of the small businesses, often run by or employing women, and killed a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs in the process.
    The losers are once again, those on the bottom trying to eke out a living through their ingenuity and hard work.

  5. Andrew M.

    What Gamecock meant, if I may be presumptuous, is that the dressmaker, like my mother was when she lived in Ghana, or the shoemaker etc, is priced out of the market. There in no one making any of these items in the country anymore and entrepreneurship is stifled.
    I am saddened to see that nearly everyone is a trader of foreign goods in my country. We make nothing!

  6. I’ve been transcribing the 1901 census for my home town on the Yorkshire coast, and it’s surprising how many occupations are “dressmaker”, “shirtmaker”, “bootmaker”, something like 1500 out of 15000 people.

    While “dressmaker” was often simply “young unmarried woman filling time before marriage”, there’s a lot of married women and older spinsters included.

  7. jgh
    I would imagine that a lot of “one-woman-band” dressmakers spent much of their time repairing clothes and reworking them to fit a new wearer as new clothes were so expensive.
    This was so common that I read that historians have to be careful about “survival bias” when it comes to looking at the history of clothing. For example we could easily think that there were fewer larger people than there were compared to tiny people. That’s because clothes were typically passed on and on and re-cut to fit until they were totally worn out and cut up for rags. Larger clothes could be cut down and passed on multiple times. Clothes originally made for very small people couldn’t and so tended to stay in better condition and survived.

  8. @Andrew M

    They’re sold so far below local new stuff sweat shops have closed before they’ve grown big enough to export

    Charities Want Africans to remain poor, their jobs depend on it
    – Right: Teach a man to fish
    – Left/Charities: feed him



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