Lobby Group denies Second Hand Clothing imported into Kenya has any Environmental Impact

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Six months after Clean Up Kenya collaborated with the Changing Markets Foundation and Wildlight to release a groundbreaking report on the environmental impact of Second Hand Clothing (SHC) exported into Kenya from the United Kingdom and the European Union, the Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya (MCAK), a lobby group for Kenya’s SHC importers, has released a rebuttal report claiming that SHC imported into Kenya has a negligible impact on the environment.

The MCAK report, titled “The Quality of Second-Hand Clothes Imported to Kenya and the Associated Environmental Impacts,” claims that only 2% of the clothing imported into Kenya is of low quality and that this is utilized in the rag industry, ensuring none of the clothing goes into landfills or pollutes the rivers. The report also states that only 1.89% of the waste at the Dandora dumpsite is textile waste.

On the basis of these findings, MCAK claims that the environmental impact of the SHC trade in Kenya is negligible. The lobby group states:

The SHC trade actively contributes to the circular economy by promoting reuse and reducing the environmental impact associated with the production of new clothing. Environmental and economic impacts associated with the textile industry are numerous.

MCAK Report – The Quality of Second-Hand Clothes Imported to Kenya and the Associated Environmental Impacts

During the public release of the report in a webinar, the MCAK Chairperson, Teresia Wairimu, was however at pains to explain the source of the mountains of textile waste shown in Nairobi River at the SHC hub in Gikomba and at Dandora Dumpsite which were highlighted in the Trashion Report and Documentary.

The Chairperson was also noncommittal on whether the Kenyan SHC industry supports the Extended Producer Responsibility efforts being implemented by the Government of Kenya and which requires all industries to be responsible for the end-of-life of products they introduce into the Kenyan market.

Polluted Nairobi River with cloth waste generated by down cycle of imported Second Hand Clothing from Gikomba market in Nairobi city on September 16, 2022. Source: Clean Up Kenya / Changing Markets Foundation

Mitumba Consortium Association of Kenya has procured the services of Professor Patrick Diamond of Queens Mary University of London to help lobby governments in East Africa to look away from the environmental impacts of the SHC industry and instead to focus on the economic benefits of the trade. The Professor edited the MCAK report as well as participated in the webinar to release it to the public. He was, however, at pains to explain which methodology was used to calculate the impact of the SHC industry on the environment when the question was posed to him in the launch webinar.

Professor Patrick Diamond has previously been commissioned by MCAK to produce a report The Second-Hand Clothing Industry in the East Africa Community in which he argues that banning of SHC in the East African Community would have a negative economic impact on the bloc of countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. These countries allegedly imports around 12.5% of all global SHC, according to his report.

Rwanda imposed a heavy import tariff on SHC in 2017 and later banned the importation in 2018. Uganda became the second country to ban the importation in September 2023. Tanzania has also held a partial ban since 2018, which affects undergarments, and Kenya continues to have a national public debate on the merits and demerits of a ban.

Professor Patrick Diamond has appeared on BBC to argue against the bans.

While we support some of the assertions by MCAK on the economic impact of a ban on SHC in the region, the lobby group can not be blind to the obvious and devastating environmental impact of SHC being imported into the region as the Trashion report and documentary was able to show.

In November 2023, we hosted a leading SHC exporter delegation from Australia who visited sections of Nairobi River in the Gikomba hub. The delegation was shocked by the environmental degradation from the activities of this trade.

At Clean Up Kenya, we believe that the Second-Hand Clothing (SHC) trade plays a crucial role in the circular economy by extending the life of clothing. However, the fashion industry’s excessive production of clothing is causing a significant environmental impact on the planet, and the SHC trade has become an extension of this problem. This is evident in the over-consumption of SHC observed in developing countries in recent years.

Developing countries over-consumption of Second Hand Clothing

In the Trashion Report, we were able to unearth that around 600 forty foot containers of SHC were imported into Kenya from the European Union and the United Kingdom in 2021 alone, roughly 2 containers per day. This is just a small fraction as more clothing comes from mostly China and North America (US and Canada). Australia has also become a big player and uses ‘SHC laundering countries’ like Pakistan and UAE, which accepts to sort the clothing for richer countries at cheap labor.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data for the last five years show Kenya has imported close to 1 billion kilograms of SHC, roughly 20 kilograms per every Kenyan. Where do all these clothes go when they reach their end-of-life? Senator Hamida Kibwana in a recent Standing Order question in the Kenyan Senate has called this importation “dumping”.


In September, I had an opportunity to speak by video link at a Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign launch in New York during this year’s UN Climate Week where I stated:

As a leader from the Global South, I’m deeply concerned about the impact the global fashion industry has on the planet and our fragile communities. I’m concerned that our clothing are now increasing being made from fossil fibers, which contributes greatly to plastic pollution and climate change. I’m also concerned that not much global and local policy attention has been put on the impact of clothing on our planet. I’m also deeply concerned that fashion brands continue to skirt around this problem with fake circularity and sustainability claims. I however hope that my voice can amplify these problems with the global fashion industry and help build a fair society for all.

Betterman Simidi Musasia speech at a New York UN Climate Week event organized by Eco- Age during launch of Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign

I also reiterated the same message at a recent round-table at the European Union Parliament where Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), NGO leaders and Fashion opinion leaders under the common call for a fair and just phase out of fossil fuels from the fashion industry have participated. This campaign is being spearheaded by Ego-Age with other organizations including Clean Up Kenya.

In conclusion, our advice to MCAK is to not skirt around these problems. As European Union Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius has stated, “Overproduction and over-consumption impact us all. We must make fast fashion, past fashion.”


Clean Up Kenya was established in 2015 to advocate for and promote sustainable public sanitation in Kenya. Since then we have become the de-facto national public sanitation advocacy brand. We are also experts in community mobilizing for cleanups. We have done numerous cleanups over the years, some of which have been attended by over 1000 volunteers on singular sites. These cleanups are meant to increase visibility on the problem of waste and it is therefore common to see our volunteers in bibs with one message, ‘Clean Up Kenya’. At the core of our work is honest and actual engagement in communities – not PR events. We also run advocacy campaigns holding duty bodies, consumer brands, green-washing NGOs, and other stakeholders to account for unsustainable public sanitation in Kenya and the global South. We receive no funding for our work but collaborate with others on projects.