A season’s worth of brand-named sweaters, boots, fashion t-shirts, and last year’s baggy trousers. You would find that and more if you sifted through the enormous toxic mountain of clothing at its burial ground in the Atacama Desert in Chile. 

A recent high-resolution satellite photo by SkyFi laid bare a colossal mountain of unwanted clothes in the Chilean desert. 

Loading the player...

It’s a sight that can be seen from the moon.  

It’s more than 39,000 tons and growing, creating a substantial environmental issue because these discarded piles of clothes carry toxic chemicals. 

Most of this clothing is manufactured mainly in China and Bangladesh. Then, it is sold at stores in the United States, Asia, or Europe. 

When one buys these pieces and throws them away after a couple of weeks, they end up frying in the Chilean desert. 

Chile is a mecca for second-hand and unwanted clothing, where 59,000 tons arrive at its ports yearly 

Stores throughout Latin America try to resell the bulk. And what people can’t sell or discard ends up in sad dumps in Atacama. 

The Atacama Desert is the world’s driest desert. It is a hotter-than-hell place (temperatures can reach 32⁰C/89⁰F at summer’s peak) where unsold or thrown-away clothing go to live out their last miserable days. 

These toxic clothing castaways swelter next to the port of Iquique in mountainous dumps, less than a mile from the city’s poorest communities. 

The clothes are not sent to local landfills because they are not biodegradable and contain toxins and dyes. Both are bad for the environment and people. 

Most of the clothes made worldwide don’t biodegrade for hundreds of years. Some don’t biodegrade at all

It’s not unusual to see local women sifting through the piles. They load up shopping carts with pieces to wear or, better yet, sell. 

Surely, you have read about the disastrous social consequences consumerism on steroids in the fashion industry has wrought — child labor and low wages, to name two. 

But much less is known about its environmental damage. This is because it needs to be more publicized — and that needs to happen now because the pile is growing.   

So, next time you go into a Topshop, H&M, or Zara to buy that cute blouse and the trousers that go oh so well with it, think about where they will likely end up when you no longer want them. 

You don’t need them. Leave them on the rack.