The Atacama desert in Chile, the largest clothing dump in the Americas

By : ujikiu / On : 09/04/2023

Although the issue of the 'clothing dump' went viral at the beginning of 2022, the problem of 'fast fashion', the contamination of the fashion industry and the implications for the environment have been issues of concern for many years.

In the first week of January, an investigation by Argentine journalist Jason Mayne of the Todo Noticias channel went viral, who once again put on the table the problem facing the Atacama desert in Chile, which is home to nearly 100,000 tons of clothing.

According to an AFP report, Chile is the first clothing consumer in Latin America and also the region's first importer of second-hand clothing from Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada.

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Some 59,000 tons of clothing arrive each year at the port of Iquique, in the north of the South American country. Of this total, about 39,000 end up in landfills, many of them with labels and completely new, as they were never sold.

The photos of the investigation were published by Jason Mayne on his Twitter account, where in addition to obtaining more than 100,000 'likes', the discussion about fast fashion and its strong effects on the environment was expanded.

Atacama Desert, the 'garbage dump'

El desierto de Atacama en Chile, el basurero de ropa más grande de América

The report published in Todo Noticias once again exposed a problem that had already been revealed by Deutsche Welle, EuroNews, AFP and other international media that have sought a solution for this landfill. But how did it go from being a mere desert, to being the world's second largest 'clothing dump'?

Iquique is the main access port for textiles not only in Chile, but also in Latin America. According to the University of Chile, this country is one of the few nations that accepts the entry of used clothing, "because for sanitary reasons or to protect national textile production, it is not allowed in other countries of the continent."

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Some 59,000 tons of clothing arrive each year at this port located in the Alto Hospicio free zone in northern Chile. According to the AFP report, clothing merchants in the capital Santiago (1,800 kilometers to the south) buy some of this merchandise, while much of it is smuggled to other Latin American countries and the surplus of these garments literally ends up in the trash. . "At least 39,000 tons that cannot be sold end up in garbage dumps like the Atacama desert."

Although it is unknown since when mountains of clothes began to be created on the desert sand, there are some people who have studied this phenomenon and elaborated the chain in which the industry moves.

One of them is Franklin Zepeda, founder of Ecofibra, a company that has made textile waste its raw material, who explained that after people select the clothes in the free zone (where the merchandise enters) they put aside the loss , which "is the one that cannot be sold because it is broken or dirty, or because it is too big," he told Todo Noticias.

The entrepreneur also pointed out that clothing cannot reach legal landfills because they do not allow soil compaction, so they are burned or left in these illegal landfills: hills of clothing that have been accumulating in the Atacama desert.

The mistake is already done. However, more and more people are joining the purchase of second-hand clothing, barter campaigns or making new pieces with garments as raw material. Beating the fast fashion industry is a daily job that depends, among other things, on the ways of consumption of the citizens of the world.