Green is the New Black

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Experts claim that what we wear can be a factor in climate change. When they are manufactured, when they are transported, when they are washed and even when they are thrown away, clothes are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions!

“People think of fashion as the stuff you buy and wear”, said Jo Paoletti, a Professor at the University of Maryland who studies clothing trends. “But it is an entire process from the raw material, to the conversion of fibers into yarns, and then into fabrics, to manufacturing them into clothing and transporting it to where it is sold. There are energy costs all along the way”.

“A label can tell you a shirt is polyester, but many consumers do not know that polyester is made from oil,” Paoletti said. “A label can tell you the shirt is 100% USDA organic cotton(1), but that claim does not tell the whole story: What about the dyes and finishes used in the shirt?”

Dyeing is one of the most environmentally harmful steps in the process of making clothes. Just in the dyeing process, water use can range wildly from a best-case scenario of 80 liters per kilo of fabric to a sloppy and careless 800 liters. The story does not end when clothes reach the racks.

Energy expenses do not stop once the garment reaches consumers. A study by the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University found that 60% of the greenhouse gases generated over the life of a simple T-shirt come from the typical washings and machine dryings. A typical washing machine emits about 73 kg of carbon dioxide each year, while a clothes dryer puff out about 318 kg, not even taking into account the environmental toxins used in traditional dry cleaning.

While scientists monitor how our clothing affects the climate, trend-watchers are more interested in the opposite; how climate change is beginning to alter our attire. Grumblings began in 2008, when retailers reported alarmingly poor sales of winter coats. “There is no strong difference between summer and winter anymore,” Milan Fashion Week founder Beppe Modenese told The New York Times in September 2008: “the whole fashion system will have to change”. Radley Horton, a climatologist at Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research, confirms that fact that so worries fashion makers: "there are less extreme differentials between seasons", he says; "spring is sneaking upon us earlier by 7 to 10 days, while fall is getting delayed by about a week".

Half of all the products we buy are clothes, and every year we throw away an average of 30 kg of them, most of which goes to dumpsters. Here are some tips to help you detox your outfits and make them more environmentally friendly:

  • Wash at low temperatures using environmentally-friendly detergents.
  • Line dry instead of tumble dry to reduce clothing environmental impact.
  • Iron only when necessary.
  • Make, do and mend; prolong the lifespan of a garment by finding a local tailor or buying a sewing kit to fix rips and lost buttons.
  • Stretch your existing wardrobe by customizing outfits or refashioning with accessories such as belts.
  • Never throw clothes in the bin. Gift them to charity, pass them on, or turn them into cleaning rags.
  • Buy second-hand, vintage, or recycled clothes from vintage fashion fairs.
  • See new clothes as an investment. Pay more for higher quality clothes that will last season after season.

References
azocleantech.com
bbc.co.uk
independent.co.uk
miller-mccune.com
sd.defra.gov.uk


*Adapted from an article published in the PSC Newsletter, Summer 2010.

**You might also be interested to read How Sustainable Is The Fashion Industry?

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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