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A desert of trash: Atacama, the place where the low-cost fashion ends

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

The Atacama Desert used to stand out for its richness in minerals and its arid lands, now it stands out for being the largest clothing dump on planet Earth.

The Atacama Desert, known for its stunning natural beauty and vast mineral wealth, is at the centre of a worrying new reality: it has become the largest clothing dump on planet Earth. Where valuable mineral resources were once mined, mountains of discarded clothing now pile up, revealing the dark side of the low-cost fashion industry.

Low-cost fashion has gained popularity in recent years due to its accessibility and affordability, but this phenomenon has also generated a textile waste crisis around the world. Atacama, previously known as a remote and silent place, has become an epicentre that reflects the negative environmental impact of this trend.

The Fast fashion store chains produce increasingly frequent collections to keep up with the latest trends, even releasing new items daily. However, this rapid production and disposal of clothing has a high cost to the environment. Low-cost clothing tends to be of lower quality and less durable, which means it is disposed of more quickly, and this is where Atacama comes into the picture.

The hills of the Atacama Desert are now adorned with textile waste that has arrived from all over the world; the landscape of this desert used to be a dream, but now it is a nightmare.

This image belongs to National Geographic

These clothes, which are mostly made of synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon, take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing toxic substances and microplastics in the process. This not only pollutes the landscape but also has a detrimental impact on wildlife and groundwater systems in the region.

Local residents and indigenous communities who have inhabited this region for generations are seeing their natural environment threatened by the invasion of rubbish. One of the biggest concerns of locals is the fire risk and public health problems that the accumulation of discarded clothing poses.

Environmental organizations and activists in Chile are fighting to address this growing crisis. Campaigns have emerged to promote awareness about the dangers of low-cost fashion and encourage more sustainable practices in the fashion industry. Efforts are being made to promote reuse, recycling, and the adoption of more sustainable textile materials.

In addition, fashion companies are being pressured to take responsibility for managing the textile waste they generate. Some brands are starting to implement clothing recycling programs and produce garments of higher quality and durability. However, there is still a long way to go to fully address this global problem.

The transformation of the Atacama Desert from a place of mineral wealth to a clothing dump is a shocking reminder of the environmental challenges we face as a society. While low-cost fashion may be tempting due to its low prices, it is important to consider its hidden cost to the planet and take steps to reduce our environmental footprint. Atacama reminds us that every piece of clothing we buy and throw away has an impact, and it is everyone's responsibility to address this issue to preserve our natural environment and the communities that depend on it.

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