Every year, around 59,000 tons of secondhand and unsold clothing, often from China or Bangladesh, reaches Chile after passing through Europe, Asia or the United States, according to a report by AFP.
The clothes are sent to the Iquique port in the Alto Hospicio free zone in northern Chile from where some of the clothes are resold around Latin America, but the majority ends up in the desert because no one pays the necessary tariffs to take it away.
Franklin Zepeda, the founder of EcoFibra, a company that makes insulation panels using discarded clothing, told AFP: “The problem is that the clothing is not biodegradable and has chemical products, so it is not accepted in the municipal landfills.”
Globally, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textiles waste is created each year and the equivalent to a rubbish truck full of clothes ends up on landfill sites every second.
According to charity Keep Britain Tidy, “a staggering 10,000 items of clothing being sent to landfill every five minutes, equivalent to £140 million in value every year.”
A 2019 UN report found that global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and the industry is “responsible for 20 percent of total water waste on a global level.”
Wasted clothes left in landfill and other dumps, such as in the Atacama, can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, polluting the environment and some water supplies as they do.
Some of the clothes left in the desert in Chile are picked up by locals, either for themselves or to sell to others and others are used by sustainable businesses like EcoFibra who upcycle the textiles into more useful items.