Translate page with Google

Project April 23, 2024

Secondhand Synthetics, Sinister Secrets



Clothes litter the beach on the edge of Accra’s Jamestown neighborhood. Residents, headed for a midday swim to escape the heat, trudge through them. Image by Anne Whiting. Ghana, 2023.

Every week, around two million—and likely more—pounds of clothing intended for reuse and resale end up in landfills and open garbage dumps in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Garments that escape the latter often end up on beaches and in rivers and lagoons. More than 60% of these are made of synthetic materials like nylon and polyester. These fabrics do not break down, and over time, jostled by waves, they also shed millions of microscopic particles of toxic, chemically-treated plastic into the water. 

These unseen microparticles pose myriad dangers to environmental and human health. 

Nonprofit organizations are working to find ways to combat this textile excess and the toxic waste it both represents and causes. In addition to cleaning up beaches, spearheading global awareness campaigns, and calling for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, they are also working with scientists to track increases and decreases in microfiber and microplastic density to evaluate the success of their initiatives. 

An understanding of the harm caused by microplastics will incentivize policies that will lead to detoxifying disposal sites. As a result, someday, fewer clothes may end up littering Accra’s ocean and beach.



yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
navy halftone illustration of a female doctor with her arms crossed


Health Inequities

Health Inequities