Toxic graveyard of disposable fashion in the Atacama Desert

Released on Tuesday 09 November 2021 at 14:35

Rain boots or aprus-ski in the middle of the Atacama Desert: In the north of Chile, wild debris of used clothing and footwear is growing at the rate of widespread production of low-cost civilization worldwide.

The South American country specializes in garments, stockings that have been rejected by consumers for forty years and in the second hand apparel trade between the good jobs of the United States, Canada, Europe and other countries.’Asia.

Each year, 59,000 tons of clothing arrive in the free zone of the port of Igua, 1,800 km north of Santiago. In this trade zone with preferential customs duties, bales are sorted and shipped to second stores in Chile or to other Latin American countries.

“These garments come from all over the world,” Alex Carreno, a former port import worker, told AFP.

But round-the-clock and textile waste is accumulating exponentially as the size of clothing produced at low prices in Asia faces growth, with brands capable of delivering fifty new collections a year.

Thus about 39,000 tons of waste is stored in illegal garbage in the town of Alto Hospicio, a suburb of Iquique.

Alex Kareno explains that people like Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay “who are not sold in Santiago or smuggled to other countries” “stay here” because it is not profitable to take them out of the free zone. Terrain.

“The problem is, these garments are biodegradable and contain chemicals, so they are not acceptable in municipal landscapes,” said AFP Franklin Zepeda, who created the EcoFibra recycling company. .

– “Get out of trouble” –

Clothing buns feature an American flag, lame skirts, pants with more labels, and sweatshirts in Christmas colors.

A woman, who did not want to be named, sank to the height of her body in a pile of clothes in an attempt to find the best-fitting clothes she could think of reselling at her nearby Alto Hospice.

Residents living nearby ask for $ 6 to $ 12 for three pants or take advantage of the situation to fill a truck. “Okay, I’ll sell it and make some money,” she says.

In the distance, two young Venezuelan immigrants who recently crossed the northern border of Chile hope to find “cool” clothing when the night temperatures in the region drop drastically.

According to a 2019 UN study, global apparel production doubled between 2000 and 2014, accounting for “20% of the world’s total water wastage.”

According to the report, clothing and footwear produces 8% of greenhouse gases and at the end of the chain, “every second, the equivalent of one truckload of textiles is buried or burned”.

At Aldo Hospice, numerous garments are also buried to prevent fires that can cause high toxicity due to the synthetic composition of many fabrics.

But whether they are buried underground or left in the open, their chemical decomposition, which can last for decades, pollutes the air and groundwater.

The government recently announced that the textile industry will soon be subject to the “Extended Manufacturer Liability” Act, which will allow garment importers to take responsibility for textile waste and facilitate their recycling.

At his company Alto Hospicio, founded in 2018, Franklin Zepeda processes up to 40 tons of used clothing per month. Synthetic and polyester fabrics are separated from cotton fabrics and used to make insulation panels for the building.

After working for 10 years in the Iquique free zone, the businessman, tired of seeing these “mountains of textile waste” near his home, decided to “get out of trouble and be part of the solution”.