Last week I mentioned some of my views on the ethics in the clothing industry, and some very interesting conversation points followed. This week, as a follow-up, I want to touch on one of them: the environmental impact of what we wear. (Looking for more detailed info on this? A great Canadian guide is Adria Vasil’s Ecoholic and Ecoholic Body) So again I challenge us to consider how we respond to our call to care for creation, this time thinking about what we are wearing…
COTTON: One t-shirt uses about half a pound of chemicals to make. Growing cotton uses 10% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of the world’s insecticides (ew!). Furthermore, over 90% of North American cotton is genetically modified. While organic cotton is better, it’s still very water-intensive.
POLYESTER, ACRYLIC, NYLON: These synthetics make up 50% of the fashion fabrics. And they’re plastic. Yup, made from oil and gas. No clue how anyone figured out to spin thread from crude, but there’s a LOT of oil now being drilled to support the fashion industry.
HEMP: Not the smokable kind. A natural fibre that grows easily and is naturally pest-resistent, and absorbs five times the amount of carbon dioxi de than forests (by area).
LINEN: Made from flax and linseed, this lightweight thread is the lowest carbon-footprint fabric available.
WOOL: Fortunately fewer sheep are suffering through the mulesing process, but sheep are regularly exposed to harmful pesticides and insecticides, or are drugged, to increase yield.
LEATHER: Tanning and dying leather is a frighteningly toxic process that includes heavy metals and a whole bunch of unpronounceable killers, and most of it is outsourced to places without strict environmental regulations.
SILK: Who doesn’t love silk? While natural and biodegradable, it is labour intensive, cruel to the moths (often boiled alive), and requires 3,000 coccoons to make one pound of silk thread.
VISCOSE/RAYON from bamboo: The bamboo is natural and grows quickly without extensive pesticide or insecticide use, is a great carbon sink and can help detoxify water. However, to make fabric, it is mixed with lots of other materials, usually synthetics, that requires significant amounts of chemicals and energy.
SOY: After the soy beans are used for food, the waste husks are formed into fabrics, meaning no soy is grown just for clothing. However, over 90% of North American soy is GMO, which means even the waste is covered with pesticides.
CORN: Not just for supper anymore, corn fabrics use less energy to make and produce fewer greenhouse gases than polyester. But almost ¾ of the corn used is GMO, and it uses only the kernel which wastes the rest of the stalk. Remember when corn kernels went on the plate, not in the closet?
TENCEL/LYCOCELL: A Eucalyptus –based fabric, the pulp can be mixed with seaweed or bamboo. Ethical producers ensure pulp is FSC-certified, and reuse the non-toxic solvents.
MODAL: Soft and lovely, this is made from beech tree pulp, though not as green as Tencel. And sweetener Xylitol is a by-product. Weird.
There’s other things to consider about what we wear too – like what has been added to the fabric. Wrinkle- and Stain-resistant fabrics can include formaldehyde, Teflon, nano-particles (which can be absorbed into skin). Printed logos are often made of PVC.
Even the greenest clothing carries an environmental impact: an average pair of organic cotton jeans uses 85 pounds of carbon dioxide (from growth to shipping), travels over 16,000km (field to store), consumes 48kWh of energy, and consumes 180 litres of water.
Eek. For me, the more I learn, the fewer clothes I buy, the more I recycle and re-fashion clothes, and the more I’m making my own. If only fig leaves were appropriate to our climate…