Chilean desert site of 39,000 pounds of discarded clothing
Some 39,000 tonnes of discarded clothing has piled up in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
This is equivalent to the weight of nearly 27,000 compact cars made from recycled fabric.
Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday that around 59,000 tons of clothing arrives in Chile every year – coming from distant textile-producing countries such as China and Bangladesh, and passing through European and North American markets before to head for South America.
Massive shipments of second-hand and unsold clothes land first at the port of Iquique in the Alto Hospicio free zone in the north, where it is not for anyone to see it cleaned.
Some is redistributed and sold throughout Chile, but a large majority stays permanently in the desert because no other government is willing to pay the tariffs to bring it to their country.
Globally, some 92 million metric tons (1 metric ton equals 2,204 pounds) of textile waste is produced by the fashion industry each year. The United States alone sees over 17 million tons of fabric thrown away every year.
Meanwhile, the resources needed to produce even a single garment are scarce, according to the United Nations. A pair of jeans, for example, requires 2,000 gallons of water to make. And the footwear industry contributes 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Unfortunately, the clothes can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, if at all, and are often laden with chemicals, “so they’re not accepted in municipal landfills,” according to Franklin Zepeda, founder of EcoFibra, where discarded clothes are turned into insulating panels. .
This piling leads to habitat loss, environmental pollution and water contamination.
A 2019 UN report said growing waste isn’t slowing down anytime soon as it revealed that global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, coinciding with the rise of so-called “fashion fast”. The UN says the industry is “responsible for 20% of total water wastage globally”.