Lawsuit against Chile over clothing dumps in Atacama desert

In March 2022, lawyer Paulin Silva started a lawsuit against Chile to ascertain local and state responsibility for what is happening in the Atacama desert

A lawsuit currently underway against Chile concerning clothing dumps in the Atacama Desert is spotlighting questions about the responsibilities of local and state authorities in managing remote areas and controlling the fast fashion phenomenon.

The case, initiated by attorney Paulin Silva in March 2022 at the First Environmental Tribunal, has uncovered that the issue of pollution from used clothing dumps began in 2012 and worsened during the pandemic.

Silva has charged the Chilean State Treasury and the Municipality of Alto Hospicio with causing environmental damage by not adequately monitoring the municipality’s remote areas where illegal clothing dumps have formed. However, the Municipality contends that its ability to act is limited and that the problem exceeds its resolution capabilities, citing the need for more resources and support from the State.

The problem is linked to the activity of the Iquique free trade zone

On the other hand, the State Treasury is represented by the State Defense Council (CDE), which argues that the primary responsibility falls on the Municipality as it is in charge of cleaning and decorating urban areas. The CDE also emphasized the need to enforce the Extended Producer Responsibility Law, which requires companies that import textile products to also take care of the waste.

The issue of used clothing dumps in the desert has been linked to the activity of the Iquique free trade zone, where large quantities of second-hand or discarded clothes from large textile companies are imported. This phenomenon, known as fast fashion, has fueled the growth of the dumps, where clothes are abandoned and often burned to make them less traceable.

The upcoming hearing at the First Environmental Tribunal will consider new documents and evidence presented by state agencies to assess the environmental situation’s severity and establish responsibilities. In the meantime, conciliation measures have been taken among the involved parties, although they have not been accepted by the plaintiff.

The case once again highlights the complexity of environmental issues related to waste management and the responsibility of local and state authorities. The Environmental Tribunal’s decision will be crucial in determining future actions to address this problem and prevent similar situations in the future.

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