Women search for clothes among the tons of objects thrown in the Atacama desert in Chile on September 26, 2021. MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP via Getty Images
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A mountain of unused fast fashion clothing in Chile’s Atacama Desert has grown so large that satellites have captured clear images of it.
SkyFi, a satellite imagery apps company, asked members of its Discord channel to help it identify the coordinates of the huge piles of clothing. Using this information, the company was able to access satellite images clearly showing the dump of unused clothing. According to SkyFi, he bought the 50cm “Very High Resolution” image for $44.
“The satellite image we commissioned of the pile of clothes in Chile’s Atacama Desert really puts things into perspective,” SkyFi said in a blog post. “The size of the pile and the pollution it causes can be seen from space, which clearly shows that there is a need for change in the fashion industry.”
In the image, there is both the mountain of clothes and a city. By comparing the visuals of the two, viewers can see just how massive the clothing dump has become.
As Agence France-Presse reported, approximately 59,000 tons of unsold clothes arrive at the port of Iquique every year, and around 39,000 tons of clothes end up dumped in the desert.
“The problem is that the clothes are not biodegradable and contain chemicals, so they are not accepted in municipal landfills,” Franklin Zepeda, founder of EcoFibra, told Agence France-Presse, who develops insulation from unused clothing.
This area is a “free zone”, which was a setup intended to help local economies by establishing a free zone. Instead, items are dumped in the desert areas of the free zone, so people can avoid paying taxes to take items out of the zone, Gizmodo reported.
The clothes come from all over the world, with many items made in China or Bangladesh, then sent to the United States and countries in Europe and Asia, before finally being sent to Chile to be resold or thrown away.
According to Earth.org, the fast fashion industry contributes more carbon emissions than aviation and shipping combined. Economically, consumers and businesses collectively lose $500 billion each year in unused and discarded clothing. The fast fashion industry is also notorious for the unethical treatment of workers, polluting the environment with everything from chemicals to microplastics and using vast amounts of water to produce clothing. Yet these problems are only expected to get worse, as the industry is set to grow from around $106 billion in 2022 to more than $185 billion by 2027reported Statista.