Some 39,000 tons of discarded clothing have amassed in Chile’s Atacama desert.
That’s equivalent to the weight of nearly 27,000 compact cars in scrapped fabric.
Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday that around 59,000 tons of clothing reach Chile annually — originating in far-flung textile-producing countries such as China and Bangladesh, and passing through European and North American markets before making its way to South America.
Massive shipments of secondhand and unsold clothing land first at the Iquique port in the Alto Hospicio free zone in the north, where it becomes no one’s responsibility to see it cleaned up.
Some of it is redistributed and sold throughout Chile, but a vast majority remains in the desert for good as no other government is willing to pay the tariffs to have it brought to their country.
Globally, some 92 million metric tonnes (1 metric tonne is 2,204 pounds) of textile waste is produced by the fashion industry each year. The US alone sees over 17 million tons of fabric discarded each year.
Meanwhile, the resources needed to produce even a single item of clothing are scarce, according to the United Nations. A pair of jeans, for example, requires 2,000 gallons of water required to make. And the footwear industry contributes to 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Unfortunately, clothing may take hundreds of years to biodegrade, if at all, and often laden with chemicals, “so it is not accepted in the municipal landfills,” according to Franklin Zepeda, founder of EcoFibra, where discarded clothing is transformed into insulation panels.
This pile-up leads to habitat loss, environmental pollution and water contamination.
A 2019 UN report indicated that the mounting waste isn’t slowing down anytime soon as they revealed that clothing production around the world had doubled between 2000 and 2014 — coinciding with the rise of so-called “fast fashion.” The UN says that the industry is “responsible for 20 percent of total water waste on a global level.”