An article in the New York Times got me thinking about my family's clothing consumption and recycling. "Can Polyester Save the World?" discusses the trend of first world people to overconsume inexpensive clothing. Elisabeth Rosenthal writes,
"With rainbow piles of sweaters and T-shirts that often cost less than a sandwich, stores like Primark are leaders in the quick-growing “fast fashion” industry, selling cheap garments that can be used and discarded without a second thought. Consumers, especially teenagers, love the concept, pioneered also by stores like H&M internationally and by Old Navy and Target in the United States, since it allows them to shift styles with speed on a low budget.
But clothes — and fast clothes in particular — are a large and worsening source of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, because of how they are both produced and cared for, concludes a new report from researchers at Cambridge University titled “Well Dressed?”.....
In their efforts to buy green, customers tend to focus on packaging and chemicals, issues that do not factor in with clothing. Likewise, they purchase “natural” fibers like cotton, believing they are good for the environment.
But that is not always the case: while so-called organic cotton is exemplary in the way it avoids pesticides, cotton garments squander energy because they must be washed frequently at high temperatures, and generally require tumble-drying and ironing. Sixty percent of the carbon emissions generated by a simple cotton T-shirt comes from the 25 washes and machine dryings it will require, the Cambridge study found.
A polyester blouse, by contrast, takes more energy to make, since synthetic fabric comes from materials like wood and oil. But upkeep is far more fuel-efficient, since polyester cleans more easily and dries faster.
Over a lifetime, a polyester blouse uses less energy than a cotton T-shirt."
Sorry, but I am not going to switch to polyester clothing. However, the concept of "fast fashion" is one that cannot be ignored. I admit to being drawn buy cheap prices when clothing my children, as they grow so fast and their clothing has to be replaced often. Everytime I gaze upon our mountain of laundry, I wonder....Do we have too many clothes? If we had less clothes, the laundry pile would be smaller and more manageable. President Bush's request that American's reduce their energy consumption by 20% got me thinking about laundry. First, I thought about how I could reduce my gasoline consumption and found the only way would be able to is by keeping my daughter home from school one day a week (until Toyota comes out with a hybrid, plug-in 4wd). But with compulsory attendance laws we would get in trouble, and the school has already shut down my idea of a hybrid homeschool/regular school program. We live off the grid and wash all our clothes in cold water (with the exception of those stinky cloth diapers). Our laundry downfall is the propane dryer (living off the grid eliminates the possiblity of an electric dryer). Winter rains and temperatures inhibit outdoor drying, but perhaps I could hang every fifth load of laundry by the woodstove on an indoor drying rack.
I googled recyled clothing to see what was available for families. The sites I found were about gently used clothing or projects you could do with your children's old clothing (like quilts and pillows). I have woven rag rugs before from old clothing, but this is time consuming. We do pass on our gently worn clothes to friends; however, my kids are hard on clothes and this is not possible 100% of the time.
What about organic cotton? I found this information on clothesmadefromscrap:
"The organic cotton movement is based primarily on one often-repeated statistic: One-quarter of all insecticides used globally are applied to cotton crops. Organic cotton products come from farms that eschew insecticides and other chemicals. Several dot-com retailers advertise clothing items made of organic cotton.
Clothes Made From Scrap, Inc. is a company that is committed to protecting our environment. We manufacture and market a line of clothing and accessories made from recycled plastic soda bottles and reclaimed cotton. We also offer 100% US made US fabric organic cotton T-shirts in natural. Every product that CMFS manufactures has a direct impact on safeguarding our environment.
While we think that protecting our earth is a priority we don't think it's more important than quality and durability. You won't sacrifice comfort either, our fabric breathes, it keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
How much of a difference does buying recycled products really make? According to the EPA plastic accounts for one fifth of the total volume of waste we produce. By recycling plastic we can lower air, water, and land pollution. However, the act of recycling is only half of the battle. In order to make a difference we must purchase products made of recycled material.
Outdoor outfitter Patagonia's Synchilla fleece uses recycled soda bottles as its base material. Since 1993, the company has diverted more than 40 million 2-liter plastic bottles from landfills and saved about 11,000 barrels of oil."
Patagonia is a great company! Sure the prices are more expensive than the "fast fashion" stores; however, Patagonia purchases come with the piece of mind that you are buying from an ethical company. According to their website,
"Our definition of quality includes a mandate for building products and working with processes that cause the least harm to the environment. We evaluate raw materials, invest in innovative technologies, rigorously police our waste and use a portion of our sales to support groups working to make a real difference. We acknowledge that the wild world we love best is disappearing. That is why those of us who work here share a strong commitment to protecting undomesticated lands and waters. We believe in using business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis."
Patagonia also offers their own recycling program for their capilene products.
"Common Threads Garment Recycling
Research shows that the environmental impact of recycling worn-out Capilene base layers into one new polyester fiber is significantly lower than making that same fiber from virgin materials. Taking into account that worn-out garments are diverted from trash incinerators, making new polyester fiber from recycled garments results in an energy savings of 76% and a CO2 emissions [greenhouse gasses] reduction of 71%, versus creating that fiber from new raw material."
We have purchased a few recycled and organic clothing products from Patagonia for our children. If you pass by an outlet, you can save loads of money on this great line of clothing.
Another solution to the "fast fashion" problem is to buy products made by small companies and cottage industries. For more informatin on one such company, please visit my previous post on original clothing.
You can download the 84 page Cambridge report "Well Dressed?" by clicking here.