“There is no beauty in finest cloth of it makes hunger and unhappiness” – Mahatma Gandhi
Every piece of new clothing, if not made sustainably, can be the product of countless chemicals and dyes, all of which can be harmful to the earth, air, groundwater as well as the people making the clothing and even the people who try it on and then wear it.
It’s not easy to unravel garments green credentials.
King of synthetic “Polyester”, is most popular synthetic clothing option today. From formal to informal wear, sports to fitness, outerwear to inner wear, polyester has given run for the money to all other fabrics. Post Second World War period, polyester was considered a miracle fabric, famed for its affordability and easy care properties, relatively painless to wash, dry and iron.
Cotton on the other hand is the oldest fiber around Scientists searching caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. Cultivated since 3000 BC, cotton is unmatched by any synthetic in terms of softness, comfort and durability. Cotton is a part of our daily lives from the time we dry our faces on a soft cotton towel in the morning until we slide between fresh cotton sheets at night. It has hundreds of uses, from blue jeans to shoe strings.
Cotton and polyester dominate the market today. Together they account for over 80% of the world’s clothing output. Polyester and cotton are the two dominant fabrics in one of the world’s most polluting industries, textiles.
Polyester’s origin is in the lab and is made by melting and combining two types of oil-derived plastic pellet to create the polymer polyethylene teraphlalate. Polyester production can result in air and water emissions of dangerous substances including heavy metals, and the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Most polyester is manufactured using antimony as a catalyst, which is a carcinogen and toxic to the heart, lungs, liver and skin.
Cotton is chemical intensive crop. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 84 million pounds of pesticides were applied to the nation’s 14.4 million acres of cotton in the year 2000, and more than two billion pounds of fertilizers were spread on those same fields. Seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as “possible,” “likely,” “probable” or “known” human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency. And cotton defoliants are “the most toxic farm chemicals currently on the market,” says Fawn Pattison, executive director of the Agricultural Resources Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the use of harmful pesticides.
There is a pressing need to transform the way clothes are made. Eliminating wasteful practices, reducing electricity, water and chemicals consumption can have a positive impact on our and planet earth’s health and wellbeing. Choice of our clothes has impact on environment therefore making intelligent and thoughtful buying decisions can help to create clothing with minimal negative impacts upon the environment, animals and human welfare.
Another missing link in determining a sustainable fabric is what happens to a garment once it leaves the shop. A study by Cambridge University found that the ‘global climate change impact’ of a cotton t-shirt can be cut by 50 per cent simply by altering washing, drying and ironing
Many garments are available with blends today, mix of cotton or polyester fibers. Mixing fabrics may lend a cotton garment easy care properties and softness to a synthetic one, but it has proven a nightmare for clothing afterlife. Reprocessing a mixed fabric garment destroys the quality of the fabric, so most are down cycled to cleaning rags or insulation.
A clear, recognizable, universal labelling system for clothes enabling individuals to, say, determine how much energy and water went into making it, how many miles it has travelled, by whom and under what conditions it was made and how it can be disposed of would enable us to choose an ‘AA’ rated garment rather than an ‘F’ rated garment. Sadly, no such labelling system exists.
Retailers should do more to help us – first, by removing clothing with the most significant social and environmental impacts from the market. The government could promote sustainable clothing with fiscal incentives and initiatives. The French are taking the lead in one respect – with a producer responsibility decree that requires textile makers to provide or contribute to the recycling of or waste disposal of their products.
Instead of shopping more and more how about swapping? Keeping in mind that two third of our clothes will be sent to landfill making clothing the fastest growing stream in household waste. Swapping is a win-win situation for all parties. You can revitalize your wardrobe as often as you’d like without breaking the bank and without falling prey to fast fashion.
Clothing swap is not only a great way to socialize, it helps save the world because it’s an opportunity for all those clothes to be given at least one more round of life. Good deed done in itself. Swapping is a great way to make our wardrobe sustainable.
Below are some tips to make your closet sustainable and green:
Organic cotton: Conventional cotton uses tons of fertilizers. The scenario changes completely in case of organic cotton. Organic cotton uses far less water too.
The main benefit of organic materials, however, is that the crops aren’t treated with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and Genetically Modified Organisms. It saves lives, is better for the environment and farming communities.
Clothes Swapping: Exchange clothing and accessories that you no longer wear (or have never worn) for someone else’s barely-worn (or never-worn) items. Shop someone else’s closet, declutter yours and build a completely new wardrobe on a budget. The clothes may not be brand new, but they’ll be new to you.
Change Laundry Habits: Wash at 30° C, no tumble dry and limited ironing will cut your clothing footprint. Running full loads of laundry in a house hold can save 99pounds of CO2 every year. Most clothing shrinking occurs as the last 5-10% of the water is driven out. If clothing is removed when it is a little bit damp, there will be less shrinkage increasing the clothing lifespan. Avoid “wash separately” clothes. Find alternates to dry cleaning or switch to organic/ natural dry cleaning places.
Quality Over Quantity: Buy less, choose well and make it last.
Recycle and Donate: Recycle your clothes, never trash. Trashed clothes go to landfills. Earth has its own clothes, does not need ours. Donate and encourage reuse.
Sustainable closets live long!