At Atacama Desert there’s a garbage dump of clothes. Yes, a place where there are -at least- 100,000 tons of garments. Many have a tag and were never used. How is this place? How did the clothes end up there?
The port city of Iquique is located in northern Chile, an area that enjoys a tax benefit, so imported products do not pay taxes. In addition, it is the gateway to the Atacama desert. It is a city surrounded by sandy hills that contrast with skyscrapers and wide beaches and that 25 km away has a garbage dump that is hard to believe.
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To reach this immense textile graveyard You have to go to Alto Hospicio, an austere town with some factories in operation. We went there. The sun beats down and humidity is non-existent.
“Here turn right and do not record because it is dangerous, there is the shot”, warns Franklin Zepeda, who He has denounced this garbage dump for 10 years and that guides us through the dirt streets. By “taking” he refers to an immense piece of land with very precarious squares. On the sides of this -and neighborhood- there are Chilean flags, playing dogs and the odd warehouse. Who live there? Mostly Venezuelans, many even came walking.
Passing the squares there are some white lines that serve as road markers in the middle of the mountain. “They changed them recently so that people do not get to the dump,” says Franklin, who has already lost count of the number of times he went. We did a few kilometers in the desert until suddenly we came to an open gate. We move forward and we find a first large mountain of clothes, sneakers and all kinds of accessories.
It is 12 noon and the sun is beating down hard, you have to squint so as not to be dazzled but even so it is impossible not to see the mountains and mountains of clothing. The first thing that arises is to walk, see, observe what there is. There is everything. All international brands. Jeans without a single hole, brand-new sneakers and I even found clothes with the price set, never released, there, in the dry desert wind.
Suddenly it was 5:00 p.m., the sun began to go down and four people appeared on the premises. They say they are Venezuelans who came walking for a month. They are two couples. One has his children in Colombia, waiting to meet again and another tells that he is 19 years old, who arrived with nothing. They are looking for a coat, socks and shoes. Jokes are made with surprising good humor. They try on jackets, they wonder how it fits. “Look, with this I’m Daddy Yankee,” he jokes as he continues to search through the mountain of clothes.
Soon it began to get dark, with three bags full of clothes, they began to walk away. The youngest searches for the right pair of a sneaker to no avail and joins the group.
Without people, only those thousands of garments remain. Between the natural hills and those of the human being. Garbage is an invention of the human being, it does not exist as a concept in nature. Nothing is wasted.
What about the clothes?
On the one hand, the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world. Some facts: to make 1 jean you need 7500 liters of water; 85% of the textiles produced end up in garbage dumps or are incinerated; and every second the equivalent of a truckload of clothes is burned.
The concept that was previously “fast fashion”, the fast fashion that produces new seasons in record time at a very low price, has now become “trash fashion”, that is to say: trash fashion. Clothes are often thrown away before they can be sold.
On the other hand, Chile imports containers of new and second-hand clothing that Europe and the United States do not want or reject. These garments are tried to sell and those that are not: they are thrown away.
Impacts produced by the fashion industry
There is environmental impact clear: contamination of the water layers, toxic smoke through burning and the release of microplastics from garments into the environment that often reaches the sea.
There is also a Social impact: thousands of wasted garments that could prevent people from getting cold, have better footwear and take advantage of those resources that the same system leaves aside. This does not happen. Trucks with clothes are illegally dumped at night.
Extended liability of the apparel producer
This novel law exists in Chile and determines that it is the producers who must take charge of the waste generated. Not consumers. The law is in the process of being implemented, it is expected that by 2023 there will be full application and that the categories of products covered by the law will be extended.
Seeing the amount of wasted clothing, Franklin Zepeda founded Ecofibra, a insulation system for homes using disused textiles and prevent them from ending up in landfills.
How does it work? It shreds garments and through a special treatment it makes them insulating and fire retardant. In this sense, technological innovation is essential to reduce the environmental impact of many industries.
What can I do as a consumer of clothing?
As consumers we can try to avoid the temptations of marketing, consume less and consume local producers.
We can also choose textiles that do not use so much water. In fact, there are already great brands that differentiate it in their labels.
Another alternative is to buy clothes that have already been used so that it continues on the circuit. Also sell or donate undamaged clothing before it goes bad.
On the part of the production companies, the ideal is that there are no seasons of new garments every two weeks and that what is produced lasts longer. In addition to using less polluting manufacturing processes.