In Chile, the Atacama Desert has become the bin of Fast Fashion

In Chile, the Atacama Desert has become the bin of Fast Fashion

@ Belgaimage

Rain boots or even post-ski in the ATACAMA desert: In northern Chile, wild landfills of used clothes and shoes are growing commensurate with the frantic low-cost fashion productionglobal.

The South American country has specialized for forty years in the second-hand clothing trade, between clothes thrown by consumers, destocking and good works from the United States, Canada, Europe or D'Asia.

Each year, 59.000 tonnes of clothes arrive in the free zone of the port of Iquique, at 1.800 km north of Santiago.In this commercial area with preferential customs duties, the bundles are sorted and then sold in second-hand stores in Chile or exported to other Latin American countries."These clothes come from all over the world," said Alex Carreño, a former worker in the portrait area.

Toxic waste

But faced with the growth of the amount of clothes produced at low cost in Asia for brands capable of offering around fifty new collections per year, the circuit is engorged and textile waste is moving exponentially exponentially.

About 39.000 tonnes of waste is thus stored in wild landfills in Alto Hospicio, a commune in the suburbs of Iquique."What has not been sold to Santiago or who did not go as smuggling towards other countries" such as Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay "stays here" because bringing them out of the free zone would not beNot profitable, explains Alex Carreño who lives not far from a discharge.

Au Chili, le désert d’Atacama est devenu la poubelle de la fast fashion

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"The problem is that these clothes are not biodegradable and contain chemicals, so they are not accepted in municipal discharges," explains Franklin Zepeda to AFP, which has just set up an EcoFibra recycling business to try toFaced with this growing problem.

Air pollution and water waste

In the clusters of clothes emerge an American flag, Lamé skirts, pants that still have their labels, Christmas colors sweatshirts.A woman, who does not mean her name, sinks into half in a bunch of textiles to try to find clothes in the best possible condition that she hopes to resell in her district of Alto Hospicio.

Residents who live nearby take advantage of the situation to ask between 6 and 12 dollars for three pants or to fill a truck."It doesn't matter, I sell it and I earn a little money," she said.

Further on, two young Venezuelan migrants, who recently crossed the northern border of Chile, hope to find clothes "for cold" while temperatures can drop drastically in the area.

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According to a 2019 UN study, global clothing production, which has doubled between 2000 and 2014, is "responsible for 20 % of the total waste of water worldwide".According to the report, the production of clothing and shoes produces 8% of greenhouse gases and, at the end of the chain, "every second, a quantity of textiles equivalent to a waste truck is buried or burned".

In Alto Hospicio, a large number of clothes are buried to avoid fires that can be highly toxic due to the synthetic composition of many fabrics.But whether they are buried underground or left in the open air, their chemical decomposition, which can take decades, pollute the air and the water tables.

"Get out of the problem"

The government recently announced that the textile industry would soon be subject to the law of "extensive responsibility of the producer", by obliging companies which import clothes to take care of textile residues and facilitate their recycling.

In his business of Alto Hospicio, founded in 2018, Franklin Zepeda treats up to 40 tonnes of used clothes per month.Synthetic and polyester clothes are separated from cotton clothing, then are used to make insulating panels for the building.After 10 years working in the Iquique free zone, the entrepreneur, tired of seeing these "textile waste mountains" near his home, decided to "get out of the problem to be part of the solution".