You’ve probably noticed that people are a bit more environmentally aware these days and there are many more eco-friendly choices out there to make, from energy saving appliances to organic food. One growing part of eco-commerce is in the clothing department. Eco-fashion, or fashionable clothing that is produced without the use of chemicals, pesticides or unfair labor and with sustainable fabric and responsible practices, is growing rapidly in popularity.
This article is not going to focus on the other problems plaguing the textile industries, such as sweatshops, unfair labor practices, horrible working conditions, and irresponsible uses of resources such as water and power. Instead, it will focus on the environmental impact of textile manufacturing.
Much of today’s clothing is not eco-friendly; rather most clothing is made out of synthetic fibers and petrochemical derivatives. Petrochemicals are pollutants that cause global warming and their chemical makeup isn’t too far off from the nerve gases used in WWII. The manufacture of synthetic fibers is a very involved process, one that releases many noxious gases, acids and organic compounds. Clothing that has a special feature, such as ‘crease resistant’ contain chemicals like formaldehyde.
The EPA considers many textile manufacturing facilities toxic waste generators. To give you a little bit of an idea just how toxic the by-product of these plants are, the manufacture of nylon releases nitrous oxide, which is 310 times stronger of a gas than carbon dioxide. Also, nylon is not biodegradable.
A hundred percent cotton clothing may seem more eco-friendly, but it is most definitely not. Twenty-five percent of total annual worldwide pesticide use is due to the cotton grown to make clothing. Pesticides are a danger to not only the farmer that has to work with the chemicals, but the consumer who wears the clothing.
Your favorite pair of jeans is one of the 450 million that are sold every year in the U.S., jeans made from pesticide-soaked cotton plants, which are then sandblasted, chemically softened and doused with toxic dyes. (And by the way, fifteen hundred gallons of water are needed to produce the 1.5 pounds of cotton needed to make a single pair of jeans.)
Wool is also treated with chemicals, which is done by way of “sheep dips”. The sheep are dipped in troughs of chemicals before their wool is sheared to “prepare” the wool. I bet that feels good on their skin. This not only adversely affects the sheep, but the farmer and the surrounding aquatic systems that the chemicals end up leaching into.
The power looms that are used to mass produce clothing leaves a much-larger carbon footprint than their earth-friendly ancestor, the handloom. (Not to mention the stealing of an age-old craft from the artisans it employs, but we’re not going to go there). One job on a power loom sucks as much energy as running twenty vacuums all day long.
Eco-fashion is a trend that needs to become a mainstay of world culture. The average American throws out 68 lbs of clothing a year, while many people around the globe don’t even have shoes on their feet. Stop the destructive and hazardous cycle and shop with a more eco-conscious mind!
Jose G. How Green are your Jeans? 2008. OnEarth Magazine http://www.onearth.org/article/how-green-are-your-jeans
Claudio L. 2007. Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1964887/
“Eco-fashion” Retrieved September 26, 2010.