a desert of clothes as far as the eye can see

Sandals, rain boots and après ski meet in the dunes of the Chilean Atacama Desert. As clothing production rises across the globe, the fashion industry’s cemeteries multiply and reach even the most remote regions. Another ecological disaster to add to the sheer volume of fast fashion. Focus on this disaster.

Located between the South Pacific and the central volcanic zone of the Andes, The Atacama Desert is one of the driest areas on the planet. If the ocher-colored sand dunes and the explosive peaks generally make up the landscape, 39,000 tons of textiles of all kinds are added each year to this panorama.

And with good reason, in light of the exponential amount of clothing made in the world, Chile, which specializes in used clothing trade, is overwhelmed by used textiles: pants, sweaters, rain boots or even après ski piles up in wild landfills, like the one near Alto Hospicio, in the province of Iquique.

Annual, more than 59,000 tons of clothing arrive at the port of Iquique, 1,800 km north of Santiago. In this trade zone of preferential customs duties, bundles of textiles are first sorted before being resold in second-hand shops in the country or exported to other Latin American countries.

The emergence of a destructive trend

If this economic cycle at first sight seems beneficial to the management of textile resources, he has for twenty years faced the exponential growth in the amount of clothing manufactured in the world. ” Since the 20th century, clothing has increasingly been perceived as disposable, and the industry has become highly globalized, with clothing often designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold worldwide at an ever-increasing pace. », decipheres the MacArthur Foundation in its study entitled “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future”.

This trend has been further reinforced over the last 15 years with an ever-increasing demand for textiles from a growing middle class with an ever-increasing income. In addition, the emergence of the “fast fashion” phenomenon, leading to a doubling of production in the same period., notes a UN report.

Between 2000 and 2014, world clothing production doubled, according to the UN. – Credit: Pixabay

An unavoidable overload of the textile circuit

With more and more readings from Europe, Asia or North America, the Chilean port quickly found itself overloaded and unable to handle such a textile mass.

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Of the 59,000 tons of clothing landed, only 20,000 of them actually circulate on the continent. Therefore, almost 40,000 tons of unsold and unwanted clothes a year are finally transported to the driest desert in the worldwhere one literally covers the dunes with layers and layers of discarded textiles.

The damaging consequences of this unbridled and ruthless economy are numerous. About human tragedies which characterizes the manufacturing process of our clothes – exploitation of children, deplorable working conditions, damage to workers’ health due to unprotected handling of toxic chemicals – is increasingly condemned in the media, the environmental costs of the textile sector are generally given less weight in terms of their service life.

At every level of production, harmful effects on the environment

However, the negative environmental externalities of such production are numerous. The UN is therefore considering to the fashion industry is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

When we think of industries that have a detrimental impact on the environment, construction, energy, transportation and even food production can come to mind. But the fashion industry is widely regarded as the second most polluting industry in the world. “, reveals the international organization in its report on the subject.

The Atacama Desert drowned in used clothes. Credit: Martin BERNATTI – AFP

Upstream of the chain it is especially large water consumption necessary for the production of questionable textiles. To produce jeans, for example, it will take almost 8,000 gallons of water, the same amount of blue gold needed to maintain an average person for seven years.

According to the UN report, about half a million tons of microfibers also end up in the oceans each year through our washing machine and our favorite t-shirts, the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil. Globally, the fashion industry is thus responsible for about 20% of the wastewater worldwide.

Still too few recycling networks in place

Same story at the end of the product life. Recycling methods are still inefficient, only 1% of the materials used to make clothes are now used to make new according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Total, therefore, slightly less than two-thirds of all world production ends up in landfills or incinerators;appreciated McKinsey. A significant proportion of these also consist of synthetic substances with very toxic compounds. Whether buried underground or left in the open as in the Alto Iquique Desert, their chemical decomposition, which can take decades, inevitably pollutes the air and surrounding groundwater..

We will understand it is urgent to reverse the trend. To do this, “lFashion brands and manufacturers must take responsibility for the transformation of the textile industry into a system that respects the boundaries of the earth and the needs and concerns of their customers », Greenpeace rightly ends its Detox My Fashion campaign.

THAT

Sources:

https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2018/01/6c356f9a-fact-sheet-timeout-for-fast-fashion.pdf

https://www.ecowatch.com/chile-desert-fast-fashion-2655551898.html?fbclid=IwAR0UylN7d2Za8pfpftf8Mw5hG4wAY3v46uRkXtDHwFq30TLrB42B352Vu88

https://nypost.com/2021/11/09/chilean-desert-site-of-39000-pounds-of-scrapped-clothing/

https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/a-new-textiles-economy

https://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2019/09/01/co2-eau-microplastique-la-mode-est-l-une-des-industries-les-plus-polluantes-du- world_5505091_4355770.html

https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035161

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