Chile’s desert dumping ground for fast fashion leftovers

Shoppers purchase secondhand clothes in a store in Singapore on January 16. Photo: AFP

Customers invest in secondhand garments in a retailer in Singapore on January 16. Picture: AFP

A mountain of discarded outfits like Xmas sweaters and ski boots cuts a bizarre sight in Chile’s Atacama, the driest desert in the globe, which is progressively struggling from pollution designed by fast style.

The social impression of rampant consumerism in the outfits industry – this sort of as child labor in factories or derisory wages – is perfectly-regarded, but the disastrous influence on the atmosphere is much less publicized.

Chile has prolonged been a hub of secondhand and unsold apparel, produced in Bangladesh and passing by way of Europe, Asia or the US in advance of arriving in Chile, where by it is resold around Latin America.

Some 59,000 tons of garments arrive just about every yr at the Iquique port in the Alto Hospicio free of charge zone in northern Chile.

Garments merchants from the funds Santiago, 1,800 kilometers to the south, purchase some, whilst much is smuggled out to other Latin American international locations. But at minimum 39,000 tons that can not be marketed finish up in garbage dumps in the desert.

“This apparel arrives from all more than the planet,” Alex Carreno, a former staff in the port’s import area, explained to AFP. “What is not sold to Santiago nor sent to other international locations stays in the cost-free zone” as no a person pays the vital tariffs to get it absent.

“The trouble is that the garments is not biodegradable and has chemical solutions, so it is not approved in the municipal landfills,” reported Franklin Zepeda, the founder of EcoFibra, a company that makes insulation panels utilizing discarded outfits.

“I desired to cease currently being the trouble and begin being the alternative,” he explained to AFP about the company he developed in 2018.

Drinking water waste 

According to a 2019 UN report, world clothes creation doubled in between 2000 and 2014, and the field is “liable for 20 per cent of overall h2o waste on a worldwide stage.”

To make a one pair of denims demands 7,500 liters (2,000 gallons) of h2o.

The very same report reported that clothes and footwear producing contributes 8 per cent of world wide greenhouse gases, and that “every 2nd, an total of textiles equivalent to a garbage truck is buried or burnt.” 

No matter whether the garments piles are left out in the open up or buried underground, they pollute the atmosphere, releasing pollutants into the air or underground water channels.

Clothes, both synthetic or taken care of with chemical compounds, can choose 200 decades to biodegrade and is as poisonous as discarded tires or plastics.

Not all the clothing goes to waste: Some of the poorest men and women from this location of 300,000 inhabitants pick by the dumps to come across items they need to have or can provide in their community neighborhood.

Venezuelan migrants Sofia and Jenny, who crossed into Chile only a handful of times earlier on a 350-kilometer journey, search by way of a clothing pile as their babies crawl above it.

The gals are looking for “matters for the chilly,” specified the desert’s nighttime temperatures fall to degrees unheard of in their tropical homeland.

Switching attitudes 

Chile is recognised for the voracious consumerism of its inhabitants.

Quickly fashion promoting “has assisted to convince us that outfits makes us more appealing, that it tends to make us stylish and even cures our anxiety,” explained Monica Zarini, who can make lamp shades, notebooks, containers and bags from recycled apparel. Matters are changing, though, according to Rosario Hevia, who opened a retail outlet to recycle kid’s clothing right before founding in 2019 Ecocitex, a firm that results in yarn from parts of discarded textiles and outfits in a weak point out. The procedure takes advantage of neither water nor chemical substances. “For a lot of yrs we eaten, and no 1 appeared to care that far more textile squander was remaining created,” she said.