The dumping ground of the Chilean desert for the remains of fast fashion | Gallery News

A mountain of discarded clothes, including Christmas sweaters and ski boots, make an eerie spectacle in Chile’s Atacama, the world’s driest desert, which is increasingly suffering from the pollution created by fast fashion .

The social effect of rampant consumerism in the clothing industry – such as child labor in factories or paltry wages – is well known, but the disastrous effect on the environment is less publicized.

Chile has long been a hub for second-hand and unsold clothes, made in China or Bangladesh and transiting through Europe, Asia or the United States before arriving in Chile, where they are resold throughout Latin America.

Some 59,000 tonnes of clothing arrive each year at the port of Iquique in the Alto Hospicio free zone in northern Chile.

Clothing merchants in the capital Santiago, 1,800 km (1,100 miles) to the south, buy it, while much of it is smuggled to other Latin American countries. But at least 39,000 tonnes that cannot be sold end up in landfills in the desert.

“These clothes arrive from all over the world,” Alex Carreno, a former employee of the port’s import area, told AFP news agency.

“What is not sold in Santiago or sent to other countries stays in the free zone” because no one pays the necessary tariffs to take it away.

“The problem is that clothes are not biodegradable and contain chemicals, so they are not accepted in municipal landfills,” said Franklin Zepeda, founder of EcoFibra, a company that makes insulation boards from clothing. thrown away.

“I wanted to stop being the problem and start being the solution,” he told AFP of the company he started in 2018.

Wasted water

According to a 2019 UN report, global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and industry is “responsible for 20% of total water waste globally.”

To make a single pair of jeans, you need 7,500 liters (2,000 gallons) of water.

The same report states that the manufacture of clothing and footwear contributes 8% of global greenhouse gases and that “every second, an amount of textiles equivalent to a garbage truck is buried or burned”.

Whether piles of clothing are left in the open or buried underground, they pollute the environment by releasing pollutants into the air or underground water channels.

Clothing, whether synthetic or treated with chemicals, can take 200 years to biodegrade and is as toxic as discarded tires or plastics.

Chile, the richest country in South America, is known for the voracious consumerism of its people.

Things are changing, however, according to Rosario Hevia, who opened a store to recycle children’s clothing before in 2019 founded Ecocitex, a company that creates yarn from scraps of discarded textiles and clothing in poor condition. The process does not use water or chemicals.

“For many years we consumed, and no one seemed to care that more and more textile waste was being generated,” she said.

“But now people are starting to question themselves.”

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