Britain must 'take responsibility' for Chile's vast fast-fashion mountains

Britain must 'take responsibility' for Chile's vast fast-fashion mountains
Britain must 'take responsibility' for Chile's vast fast-fashion mountains

Chile’s environment officials have called on the UK to ‘take responsibility’ and stop thousands of tonnes of clothes from western Europe and the United States being illegally dumped in the Atacama Desert.

Maisa Rojas warned that the huge ‘fast fashion’ mountains which are discarded and burned have ‘environmental consequences for the whole planet’. 

The Latin American country has long been a hub of second-hand and unsold clothing made in China or Bangladesh, which passes through Asia, Europe, and North America before arriving in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Around 60,000 tonnes of clothing arrive each year at the Iquique port in the Alto Hospicio free zone, where it is bought by clothing merchants or smuggled to other South American nations. But at least 39,000 tonnes that cannot be sold end up in rubbish dumps in the desert.

With no legal means of disposal, the piles of textiles are burned, releasing toxic fumes and polluting the ground. The Chilean government insists it is struggling to regulate the trade.

Miss Rojas, director of the Chilean Centre for Climate Science and Resilience who will be Chile’s environment minister in March, told the BBC: ‘It’s not easy to reconcile so many interests such as prohibiting the dumping of used clothing. It’s not feasible.

‘Businesspeople need to play their part and stop importing rubbish, but developed countries also need to take responsibility. What’s happening here in Chile has environmental consequences for the whole planet.’

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile in September 2021

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile in September 2021 

Maisa Rojas, one of Chile’s environment officials, has called on the UK to ‘take responsibility’ to stop thousands of tonnes of clothes from western Europe and the United States being illegally dumped in the Atacama Desert

Maisa Rojas, one of Chile’s environment officials, has called on the UK to ‘take responsibility’ to stop thousands of tonnes of clothes from western Europe and the United States being illegally dumped in the Atacama Desert

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile

Women search for used clothes amid tons discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile

Women search for used clothes amid tons discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile

Aerial view of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile in September 2021

Aerial view of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile in September 2021

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile, on September 26, 2021

View of used clothes discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile, on September 26, 2021

Women search for used clothes amid tons discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio

Women search for used clothes amid tons discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio

According to a 2019 UN report, global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014, and the industry is ‘responsible for 20 percent of total water waste on a global level’. To make a single pair of jeans requires 7,500 litres (2,000 gallons) of water.

The same report said that clothing and footwear manufacturing contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gases, and that ‘every second, an amount of textiles equivalent to a garbage truck is buried or burnt’.

Whether the clothing piles are left out in the open or buried underground, they pollute the environment, releasing pollutants into the air or underground water channels.

Clothing, either synthetic or treated with chemicals, can take 200 years to biodegrade and is as toxic as discarded tires or plastics.

So much clothing arrives each year in Chile that the traders cannot hope to sell it, and no one

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