Chile: Mountains of discarded clothes in the Atacama Desert
Every year, some 59,000 tons of used and unsold clothing end up in Chile from all over the world. In the Atacama Desert, entire landscapes are now covered by new and old garments.
A bit of color in the desert
Chile has long been a hub for used and unsold clothing made in China or Bangladesh. The garments enter Chile via Europe, Asia or the United States, and are then recycled or resold throughout Latin America.
Being resourceful with resources
Clothing merchants from Santiago, the capital 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) to the south, buy some of the garments, while much of it is smuggled out to other Latin American countries. But at least 39,000 tons that cannot be sold end up in garbage dumps in the desert.
Waste not, want not
Not all clothing is discarded: some of the poorest people from the Atacama Desert region, with a population of 300,000, rummage through the garbage dumps to find clothes they need or can sell in their neighborhood.
Clothing production doubled
Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is now generated each year. According to a 2019 UN report, global garment production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and the industry is responsible for 20% of the world's total water waste.
Putting old clothing to good use
The piles of clothing also pollute the air or groundwater. "The problem is that the clothes are not biodegradable and contain chemical products, so they are not accepted in the municipal landfills," Franklin Zepeda told AFP. He is the founder of EcoFibra, a company that makes insulating panels from old clothing.
In Santiago, for example, the yarn factory Ecotex Ecologic has set up a container. Anyone can drop off used clothing there, which is then ecologically processed into yarn. Ecocitex, like EcoFibra, is a company of the circular economy project.
From landfill to eco-yarn
Neither water nor chemicals are used in the production of the yarn. Clothing, either synthetic or treated with chemicals, can take up to 200 years to biodegrade. And it is as toxic as discarded tires or plastic.
Things are changing
"For many years, we consumed and nobody seemed to care that more and more textile waste was being generated," Rosario Heva, founder of Ecocitex told AFP. "But now people are starting to question themselves."