By Bill Meeker
Getting your spring wardrobe ready is always a fun exercise, but many of you will be wondering about the impact your clothing purchases have on the environment. This article will show you how to take action for a healthier planet.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not an expert on clothing or fashion. However, I have done a deep dive into the Internet to learn about the impact of clothing choices on our personal carbon footprint and environmental impact.
Here are six bits of information from the World Economic Forum:
- The clothing and fashion industry produces 10% of the world-wide Green House gas emissions – more than the aviation and shipping businesses combined
- Around the world, every second, one garbage truck full of textiles is either burned or dumped into landfill and 3 of 5 items we buy are thrown away within one year
- Washing one synthetic garment releases about 2,000 plastic microfibers into the ocean and food chain
- It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt – more than one person drinks in 2.5 years
- 120 million trees are cut each year to make clothes. 30% of the rayon and viscose used in clothing comes from endangered and ancient forests.
- Up to 16% of the world’s pesticides are used in cotton farming every year, degrading and polluting water and poisoning cotton pickers.
Now let’s look at a fairly common outfit and example from www.ecotricity.co.uk in the United Kingdom: The list shows the equivalent kilograms of CO2 produced over the course of the item’s life cycle (including disposal):
- Jeans – a pair of Levis 501 jeans – 33kg
- Running Shoes – a typical pair made from synthetic materials – 14kg
- T-Shirt – pure cotton t-shirt made in China – 9kg
- Polyester Jacket – 18kg
- Underwear – 2kg
This particular outfit includes items I wear and purchase on a frequent basis – it might be similar for you. The total impact from this unassuming wardrobe is about 76 kg of CO2! That is roughly equivalent to driving from Ottawa to Quebec City. Just imagine what the total when multiplied by millions if not billions of people around the world!
So what can we all do about it? Applying the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) works for clothing as it does for most types of consumption impacting the environment. Look for ways to stretch what we have further – consider investing in longer lasting clothes – remember on average 85% of our clothes end up in landfill. Next, consider buying vintage or used clothing – consider hosting an exchange party to swap clothing with your friends. When finished with a particular piece of clothing, try donating it so it can be repurposed or reused – or include it at your next exchange party. When purchasing new clothes, we can look for garments made from eco-friendly materials – including bamboo, silk, organic cotton, tencel, re-cycled denim, hemp and recycled polyester. To learn more about the various fabric options, visit Green Story.
One of the founders of Green Story, Akhil Sivanandan, has researched many of the leading fabric options in detail and produced this very helpful buying guide to help us all make greener fashion choices. I am happy to have found many Canadian options, including places to recycle or purchase used clothing, as well as, ethical and sustainable retailers on the Internet.
Here are a couple of examples of stores that have utilized Green Story’s analytics to provide real-time feedback on the difference made by purchasing ethical and sustainable clothing and accessories.
Tilly and Jasper – Organic baby clothes! Local Mom Heather Hill talks about her experience; “We are so enamoured with the clothes we got from Tilly and Jasper. Choosing which items to get from the website was agony, with so many adorable styles available. The little pants we got for our 16 month-old are so soft and they wash beautifully. Despite regular wear by an active toddler, the colours are still bright and the fabric has held shape. Everywhere we go people comment on how cute her little airplane pants are. I also love that they are truly gender neutral without losing points for cuteness. Did I mention that they accommodate cloth diapers? Huge win. Our four year old chose her own items and again, they are just beautifully made, unique, durable and she gets compliments wherever she goes. About the skirt she chose she says, “I love it. It makes me feel like I’m a princess walking around in a castle.” We bought it a bit big because she’s growing so fast but it fits well thanks to the drawstring waist. I know she’ll get a ton of wear out of it for a good long time.”
Bravesoles – selling recycled sandals and accessories – shows how many tires have been recycled, electricity saved, and equivalent cars taken off the road
Tamga Designs – selling women’s and men’s sustainable fashion – shows how many litres of water saved, CO2 emissions avoided, and kWh of electricity saved
Ungalli – selling women’s and men’s sustainable fashion – shows how many bottles of water saved, km of driving avoided, and PET bottles recycled If you visit these sites, consider taking the time to read the “About Us” section.
All of these companies have inspiring stories about how they got started and the positive contributions they are making to help reduce our impact on the environment and personal carbon footprint! So go ahead and update your spring/summer wardrobe and feel good while contributing to a healthier planet!