In the Atacama desert in Chile, an expanding dumpsite has been growing – full to the brim with clothes waste. The fast fashion industry has raked in over $106 billion in 2023 alone, according to a report by The Business Research Company, and now satellite images are showing the true effects of our spending habits on the climate.
The mountain in question holds 60,000 tonnes of rejected items of clothing, which can now be seen all the way from space. The image was shared by Sky Fi, who also tweeted the satellite picture with the caption: “We can confirm the giant clothes pile in the desert of Chile exists and is growing.”
The high-res imagery shows the size of the pile next to a neighbouring city called Iquique, which sees its most deprived districts living next to the discarded clothing. Almost all – 59,000 tonnes – have come from Europe, Asia, and North America. The garments are sent to the Chilean desert with the idea that they will be sold, but evidently, a lot of them cannot continue on their life cycle. When they are dumped, the toxins from the clothing release pollutants into both the air and water sources. This corner of Chile is most desirable for dumpers as it is a tax-free zone, meaning that the clothing can sit there for as long as it can instead of having to pay for it to be transported. The landfill site has now been labelled an “environmental and social emergency” by the United Nations.
The Iquique port (that collects the items) only sees 15% of second-hand items, resulting in 85% never being worn before. The intake of fast fashion is still at the majority level. Not only this but with the desert’s dry climate, the pile had been causing local communities to endure weeks-long wildfires. In the summer of 2022, toxic gases were emitted from the pile which then forced the residents of the city to stay indoors. The ever-expanding pile is worrying government officials who cannot seem to control the wildfire outbreaks.