WATCH: Chile's unique Atacama desert threatened by piles of rubbish

WATCH: Chile's unique Atacama desert threatened by piles of rubbish

It may be one of the driest places on Earth. A brutal, alien landscape where life seems impossible.

But Chile's massive Atacama desert is a unique and fragile ecosystem that experts say is being threatened by piles of rubbish dumped there from around the world.

Mountains of discarded clothing, a graveyard of shoes, and rows upon rows of scrapped tires and cars blight at least three regions of the desert in northern Chile.

"We are no longer just the local backyard, but rather the world's backyard, which is worse," says Patricio Ferreira, mayor of the desert town of Alto Hospicio.

Chile has long been a hub for secondhand and unsold clothing from Europe, Asia, and the United States, which is either sold throughout Latin America or ends up in rubbish dumps in the desert.

Spurred on by the world's insatiable appetite for fast fashion, this chain last year saw over 46,000 tonnes of used clothing funnelled into northern Chile's Iquique free trade zone.

Full of chemicals and taking up to 200 years to biodegrade, activists say the clothing pollutes the soil, air and underground water.