Your old T-shirt may be in a Chilean desert
Chile’s Atacama Desert has become a clothing graveyard, with around 35,000 tons of unsold second-hand clothing getting dumped there every year. A handful of organizations are working to reduce and reuse the polluting fabrics.
What's happening: It starts when used clothing from the U.S, Europe and Asia arrives at Iquique, a tax-free port near the desert, for resale in Chile and other Latin American countries.
- The unsold stuff — 60% of 59,000 tons — ends up in a desert landfill, 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 fighting the problem by taking the discarded clothing from the desert and giving it new life.
- Women-led Ecocitex uses the clothes to make new materials such as yarn and wool hats. It also donates some garments to migrant and homeless communities.
- EcoFibra grinds the clothing into tiny pieces, then uses that for heat and sound insulation panels, which can be recycled.
Don’t forget: The fashion industry produces higher carbon emissions yearly than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the UN.
- The UN pins most of the blame on "fast fashion:" brands that sell short-lived collections in bulk and made with cheap materials, which wear down faster and are discarded more quickly.
Of note: Chile and Guatemala are the Americas’ biggest importers of used clothes, according to MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.
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