Opinion | Donate clothes? You’re contributing to Africa’s ‘mitumba’ problem.


Kenya Wiley is a policy counsel and fashion law professor at Georgetown University. She previously served as counsel and senior policy adviser for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

If you’ve donated clothing to a local charity or tossed your stained shirts in a drop-off bin, chances are your discarded items will be dumped in Africa, winding up in landfills, water and eventually breaking down into microplastics. Your castoff T-shirt will be among millions of items harming human health, marine life and local economies. In 2021, the United States was the leading exporter of secondhand clothing, according to United Nations data, and Africa was one of the main destinations for these goods. The intention is for vendors to sell at African markets, but the quality of the used clothing — referred to as mitumba — is often so poor and soiled that the items are dumped or burned as fuel.

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