The Chilean desert is home to tons of discarded clothes

The Atacama Desert in Chile has become a clothing graveyard, with around 35,000 tons of unsold second-hand clothes dumped there every year. A handful of organizations are working to reduce and reuse polluting fabrics.

What is happening: It starts when used clothes from the United States, Europe and Asia arrive in Iquique, a duty-free port near the desert, to be resold in Chile and other Latin American countries.

  • The unsold – 60% of the 59,000 tonnes – ends up in a desert dump, according to environmental groups.
  • The fabrics could take up to 200 years to decompose because they are mostly synthetic and treated with chemical dyes, the groups say.

Details: Local circular economy companies Ecocitex and EcoFibra are tackling the problem by salvaging discarded clothes from the desert and giving them new life.

  • Ecocitex, run by women, uses the clothes to make new materials such as yarn and woolen hats. It also donates some clothing to migrant and homeless communities.
  • EcoFibra grinds clothes into small pieces, then uses them to make thermal and acoustic insulation panels, which can be recycled.

do not forget: The fashion industry produces higher carbon emissions each year than all international flights and shipping combinedaccording to the UN.

  • The UN blames most of the blame on “fast fashion”: brands that bulk sell collections that are ephemeral and made with cheap materials that wear out faster and get thrown away faster.

To note: Chile and Guatemala are the largest importers of used clothing in the Americas, according to MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.

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