The Atacama desert’s clothing dump: a fast fashion nightmare

Some of the used clothing landfills that have been created in the Atacama desert have been set on fire to further fuel the illegal trafficking of textile waste with dramatic consequences for health

In the heart of the Atacama Desert lies a grim testament to the fast fashion industry’s unchecked excesses. The town of Alto Hospicio has become infamous for its sprawling used clothing landfill, a site that recently suffered a catastrophic fire, erasing mountains of textile waste. This incident has only propelled those involved in the illegal waste trade to devise new means of continuing their activities under the radar.

Emerging reports have uncovered the establishment of new disposal sites within the desert, now cunningly hidden to evade detection by authorities. Rosario Hevia, the founder of ECOCITEX, a venture dedicated to recycling used clothes, found herself amidst this unsettling reality while participating in a documentary exploring the fate of discarded garments in Alto Hospicio.

During the documentary’s filming, Hevia witnessed firsthand the clandestine nighttime transport and subsequent dawn incineration of clothes. This method has led to the proliferation of secret dumpsites across the desert, complicating efforts by authorities to monitor and control the situation.

A Challenge to Monitor Remote Areas

The gravity of this issue is underscored by Chile’s position as the leading importer of used clothing in Latin America, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL). The obliteration of the notorious clothing hill in Alto Hospicio, estimated to weigh between 12,000 and 65,000 Ton, is merely the tip of an iceberg in a much broader crisis.

Local officials, including Alto Hospicio’s mayor, Patricio Ferreira, have acknowledged the severity of the issue. Ferreira has emphasized the community’s desire to live free from the blight of landfills and highlighted the local government’s increased efforts to tackle the problem. Nevertheless, he conceded that patrolling these remote areas remains a daunting challenge, despite a 300% increase in municipal inspectors.

After witnessing the dire situation in northern Chile, Rosario Hevia has committed to reporting her findings impartially and objectively. She stressed the importance of bringing these issues to light, acknowledging that while she may not have the solutions, recognizing the problem—especially considering the added health risks from fires—is a critical first step.

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