The great clothing dump in our Atacama Desert
Posted by CLAUDIA DE YOPPEN® in
The bad news when it comes to the environment seems never ending. There are many things that we still do not know about the damage that humanity generates on our planet. Whether it's because we don't know yet or simply because no one mentions it, ignorance of certain issues prevents people from taking action. That is why today we want to tell you about the large clandestine clothing dump that is located in our Atacama Desert. In this blog, we will talk about its origin, the environmental and social consequences that it entails and how we can avoid it with simple decisions in our lives.
A clothing dump in the middle of the desert
The Atacama Desert is known to be the driest in the world. Every year, tourists from all countries travel to the north of Chile to discover its mysteries and natural beauty. However, this desert hides an ugly secret among its hills that, paradoxically, also comes from abroad.
In the area belonging to the Alto Hospicio commune there is a huge clandestine dump made up solely of clothes. This problem encompasses environmental and social consequences. The textiles produced by fast fashion or fast fashion are not biodegradable and, even worse, they can become toxic. For this reason, concern is growing more and more about an event that affects one of the main natural attractions of our country.
Let's go by part: What is fast fashion and how did it end up in the Atacama Desert?
In simple words, fast fashion or fast fashion is a worldwide trend in which large and well-known brands and commercial stores generate enormous amounts of clothing designed to only last one season. Worse still, these products are created with materials that are not biodegradable, that are processed with harmful chemicals and also require enormous amounts of water for their creation, not to mention the environmental impact that their importation from one country to another produces!
When these clothes go out of style at retail, they are thrown away and sold as “second hand”. It is in this condition that many Chilean importers buy it to market it as bales within our country. The process is simple: the clothes enter Chile, the importers select them as first, second and third category and, finally, discard those that do not fit into any of the above.
An important detail is that once in our country, the clothes cannot go through customs. This situation forces importers to get rid of it by smuggling or simply throwing it away. Since it is mostly made of polyester, it is not biodegradable. For this reason, it is not accepted in municipal landfills and ends up in clandestine dumps such as the one in the Atacama Desert.
The environmental impact of clothing landfills
A few months ago Meganoticias published a report on this topic. In it they mention that 59,000 tons of clothing enter our country annually through the Free Zone of the port of Iquique. This makes us the country that consumes the most clothes in Latin America and also the one that imports the most second-hand garments from Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada. A worrying fact is that 40,000 tons of these clothes end up in landfills.
According to BBC News this is also a social problem. Proof of this is that one of the largest clothing dumps is located in Alto Hospicio, a commune known for its fight against the socioeconomic vulnerability of its inhabitants. There, many people live a few meters from these veritable mountains of textile waste.
Many times, in a vain attempt to get rid of them, they are tried to be burned. This action releases toxic gases that end up directly into the lungs of the people who live there. In addition, according to the municipality of Alto Hospicio, on average one fire is generated per year by this irresponsible method.
Let's talk about indirect impact
The mere production of all this clothing that ended up in the Atacama Desert already meant a large ecological footprint. According to the UN, the manufacture of clothing and footwear generates 8% of greenhouse gases and every second the equivalent of a garbage truck of this waste is buried or burned.
On the other hand, the same statistic indicates that the clothing industry is responsible for 20% of water waste worldwide. If we put it in more specific numbers, according to La Vanguardia a pair of jeans requires 10,850 liters of water for its production! That is more than 11 times the water that we drink in a whole year!
So how do we get rid of this literal mountain of clothes?
A very important fact to consider is that, due to the use of polyester, the fabric of most of these garments will take an average of 200 years to biodegrade. That's right! Once again the plastic is in our sight and we are ignoring it.
The good news is that many people have already seen this problem and are beginning to be part of the solution. At a more micro level, hundreds of people are seen daily in these clothing dumps who intend to use it for clothing and even make their livelihood by selling it in free fairs.
On the other hand, there are also large enterprises that use this so-called “garbage” as raw material. An example of these is Ecofibra Chile who since 2016 use it to create thermal insulation panels. Per month, Ecofibra processes 40 tons of textile waste, making it a cheaper alternative and just as effective as fiberglass.
How do we avoid clothing dumps from our home?
Believe it or not, it is possible to avoid this situation from our home. Follow these 3 simple tips and you will already be doing your bit to care for our planet.
1.- Just like us, he prefers cotton and not polyester!: Do you remember what we told you about the production of jean pants? The production of cotton clothing occupies only a fifth of the water produced by those made of synthetic fiber. In addition, it is a biodegradable material. If you want to go one step further, there are even more ecofriendly alternatives. You just have to inform yourself and you will find the one that best suits your needs!
2.- He prefers local clothing manufacturers: Needless to mention the damage to the environment caused by the transfer of products from one country to another. For this reason, the best alternative to buy your clothes and any other product is always local. In this way, you will reduce your carbon footprint and you will be supporting entrepreneurs in your area.
3.- Take charge of those clothes that you no longer wear: Just as we should do with all our waste, let's be aware of what will happen to our clothes when we no longer use them . There is always the option to inherit it, donate it or why not? reuse it.With a little ingenuity and a good tutorial, you can turn that shirt or pants that you will no longer be able to wear into a cute bag, backpack, scrunchie or whatever you can think of!
Our responsible and conscious purchases are the best way to protest against the fast fashion industry!