By Meritxell Freixas
Santiago, Nov 4 (EFE).- An affluent area of Chile’s capital boasts the first public apparel clean point of its kind in the South American country, a drop-off facility where used items of clothing are received either for resale or transformation into new garments.
That space in Santiago’s Las Condes district attracts clothes donors with a uniquely inviting setting that includes picnic tables with umbrellas, hammocks, African music emanating from a bus/store powered by solar energy and wooden cubicles with recycling instructions.
“Textile management and recycling in Chile is in its very early stages. There are very few players and just an occasional short-lived campaign, but this clean point is intended to be a more continuous initiative,” Nicolas Calderon, head of communications for Chilean clothing brand Kaya Unite, told Efe.
Las Condes Mayor Daniela Peñaloza told Efe that a change in behavior and habits is now needed and that there is a strong commitment to achieving that goal in her district.
According to the United Nations, the textile and fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting after energy. Chile, meanwhile, is the biggest per-capita apparel consumer and importer in South America.
“We recycle almost everything at home, but in my building there’s no textile recycling. So I come here to drop off clothing that’s too small for us or that we no longer use, so they can give it another use or recycle it,” Francisca Zapata, a resident of that district, told Efe.
The collection space, located next to a green point for the recycling of different materials, accepts all kinds of garments with the exception of underwear, dirty clothes or accessories.
Kaya Unite monitors then classify the items, either designating them for reuse or recycling.
Much of the apparel dropped off at the site ends up at Ecocitex, a company founded in 2020 that either resells the items or turns them into recycled cloth or stuffing for products such as chairs or punching bags.
“The goal is to give the best use to each item, so nothing ends up in the garbage or in landfills,” the company’s founder, Rosario Hevia, told Efe.
“We separate the clothing by color. We cut it. We shred it and it ends up with the appearance of fleece … the fibers are combed and later turned into strands known as ‘canelos,'” from which the thread of recycled clothes is made, Hevia said.
Besides the environmental benefits, the process has a clear social and community focus: women who have been jailed or are in the process of social reintegration are tasked with color selection so the final tone of the new fabric is as attractive as possible.
According to Ecocitex, each ton of clothing processed at its factory avoids 4.8 tons of carbon emissions.
Kaya Unite, for its part, said it has prevented nearly 880 kilograms (1,940 pounds) of fabric from ending up in landfills. Of that total, around 280 kilos have been recycled into cloth, thereby mitigating 1.6 tons of carbon emissions.
“We’re among the most polluting industries on the planet, and so beyond saying we can be sustainable we like to act and do things,” Calderon said.
Hevia, for her part, lamented that neither companies nor private citizens are willing to pay to recycle, a process that “isn’t cheap and entails a lot of work.”
“Although we know the problem of clothing and textile waste generates a lot of pollution worldwide, there’s very little willingness to pay,” the businesswoman said.
It will therefore become increasingly necessary to add the cost of recycling to the price of new clothing, she said, adding that “we’re used to trash being thrown out and that it’s free.” EFE