Green Tip: Go Green with What You Wear

Green Tips | July 7, 2017

What you wear can demonstrate your beliefs, attitude, or sense of self, but it also can show how much you value the environment. Although it doesn’t get much press, the apparel industry has a major environmental impact, accounting for 10% of global carbon emissions annually. But that’s not all: materials for clothing are extremely water-intensive and require extensive amounts of pesticides and chemicals to produce. There are a variety of materials in particular that you should stay away from

Cotton is one of the most popular materials for clothing, making up a quarter of the textile industry worldwide. It also uses more pesticides than any other single product and controls a 3 percent share of the world’s water resources. Although organic cotton is a greener alternative to traditional cotton, it is similarly water intensive and is can be harder to find.

Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and spandex, are man-made fibers created out of fossil fuels like oil. According to some studies they make up more than 60 percent of the global fiber market and because they are a type of plastic, they don’t biodegrade. When clothes are washed, or thrown away these plastic fibers can get into waterways and pollute our oceans, rivers, and even land. Plastic is a major toxic pollutant and can kill wildlife as well as polluting the environment.

Rayon, though it is made from plant fibers, it is treated with many chemicals including carbon disulfide that have major health impacts. Carbon disulfide has been linked to a variety of conditions including Parkinson’s disease, premature heart attack, and stroke. Furthermore, there are high energy and water demands for the manufacturing of the wood pulp used in rayon fiber.

The impacts of the clothing industry on the environment are immense, but you can choose more sustainable fabrics and brands to reduce your impact. Linen, for example, is made from the flax plant, and does not require immense energy or water resources in production. It is durable and can last for a long time, reducing the number of times you will have to replace it. Although more debated, wool is also considered sustainable because it comes from sheep who can live practically anywhere with little impact on the land.  However, like cows, sheep emit methane which is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span.

Even better than buying wool and linen clothes, you can be greener by buying clothes that are second-hand and recycling them to give them another life. The best solution, though, is to stop buying clothes altogether! Although this can be difficult, maybe the next time you pick up a pair of jeans you will think twice and make the greener choice.

By Korinna Garfield

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