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Ghana says second-hand clothes are no longer good enough

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For better or worse, second-hand T-shirts from the US often make up the uniform for hundreds of millions of people throughout Africa.

Churches collecting threads for the needy call this goodwill, but many of West Africa's tailors call it "unfair," "unstylish," or "insulting" to a region whose traditional clothing can't win price wars against a container load of "John Edwards 2008" shirts donated from the warmth of the American heart.

Now the West African nation of Ghana is implementing a ban on hand-me-down trade, or at least a partial ban. Ghana's new trade law forbids secondhand boxers, handkerchiefs, and mattresses from entering the country's docks or markets, on the grounds that such imports are, well, gross. ("Unhygienic" in government lingo.)

But traders in the nation's market stalls are vexed.

"The ban on second-hand goods is really going to bring hardships to us and our families since the trade is our only source of livelihood," one vendor told the Ghana News Agency.

"The government will throw us out of business should this ban come into effect," a clothing dealer told the Agence-France Presse last November, before Ghana's police began enforcing the ban.

The ban began last week, yet underwear may be the least of Ghana's second-hand troubles.

Electronic waste – big box televisions, VCRs, computers from the Dos days – is routinely dumped in countries like Ghana as "used electronics" by companies that would pay stiff fees if they tried to recycle the junk in the US or Europe.

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