How to be fashionably greenThe kind of clothes you wear can make a surprisingly big environmental difference. Growing cotton uses almost 25% of all insecticides applied worldwide. Those pesticides can sicken field workers and contaminate the environment. Then there are the chemicals used to bleach, dye, and finish the fabric, and the water and energy consumed to grow, harvest, manufacture, and transport the clothing. Growing the cotton for a single T-shirt takes 320 gallons of water. Synthetic fabrics, mostly made from non-renewable petroleum, are laced with similar environmental problems.
But don't run for the nudist colony just yet. The tips below will make your wardrobe greener-without sacrificing your style.
- Shop your closet. Being green means conserving resources. So, skip buying something new and instead re-use what you've got. Need to bring your wardrobe up to date? A tailor may be a greener and less expensive option than buying a new wardrobe.
- Recycle. If you need to get rid of some clothes, don't just throw them out. Give them to a charity or share with a friend. If you don't know anybody who wants your clothes, try websites such as Craigslist or Freecycle. Even unwearable clothes might be welcome for a craft project at a school. Clothing can also be turned into rags.
- Swap. Host a clothes swap. Get together with some friends and shop in each other's closets. Swap kids clothes or your clothes. It's a great way to be green and have a good time.
- Repurpose. Rags aren't the only things you can make out of old clothing. Sweaters can be turned into snazzy pillows, Christmas stockings, or even stuffed animals.
When shopping, look for
- Organic fibers. Look for clothing made with certified organic fiber, which is grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Organic-fiber clothing is less expensive and more widely available than it used to be. You can find it at most retailers, including the big-box stores. If you want to be even greener, look for compliance with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which covers the entire clothing production process.
- Wool. Wool may bring to mind a lovely pastoral scene, but most wool is dipped in pesticides to kill ticks, fleas, and other pests. So look for certified organic wool products. One type, Pure Grow wool, is not only free of synthetic pesticides but also cleaned and manufactured without bleaches, formaldehyde, dyes, or animal cruelty.
- Silk. Environmentally speaking, the best silk is "wild-crafted," which is generally produced without pesticides and hormones.
- Bamboo. A grass, bamboo has been touted as the wunderkind of eco-friendly fibers. And it is in some respects. Some bamboo can grow a foot a day without the application of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. But the devil is in the processing. To avoid bamboo fibers that have been treated with harsh chemicals, look for Oeko-Tex certification, which ensures that the manufacturing and finishing processes are healthy.
- Carbon certification. The Carbon Neutral Clothing certification process estimates the carbon emissions created by a product from raw material to delivery. Those emissions are then offset by reforestation projects and investments in alternative energy and other endeavors that reduce carbon emissions. Just look for the Carbon Neutral Clothing certification on the tag.
- Fair trade. The fair trade movement promotes fair wages for work done in compliance with social and environmental standards. Look for products with Fair Trade Certified Mark. Or check the manufacturer's reputation with such organizations as Behind the Label or Sweatshop Watch.
- Plant-based synthetics. Rayon, Tencel, and acetate are touted as environmentally friendly fabric options. Although they are made from plant-based cellulose, whether they are environmentally friendly is subject to some debate. The cellulose may have come from discarded material from wood processing-which is good-but it also may have come from virgin forest. Harsh chemicals may have been used to extract the cellulose. Of the three, Tencel may be the most eco-friendly. Tencel's production uses less water than rayon and biodegradable solvents, and is itself biodegradable.
Flame retardants. Kids sleepwear sizes 9 months to 14 years must meet certain flammability requirements to protect children from burns. The concern stems from children playing with fire or a stray sleeve catching a candle or match. (That's why sleepwear sized under 9 months is exempt.) To meet these requirements, sleepwear must either pass certain flammability tests or be tight fitting. All synthetic materials have flame retardants added. Sometimes the chemicals are bonded to the fiber of the fabric in a way that is considered chemically stable. That's how most polyester pjs are made. But other common sleepwear materials, such as nylon and acetate, are doused in flame retardants after the fabric is manufactured. In industry lingo, they are "treated" with flame retardants, and that can be unhealthy for children. Some flame retardants are hormone disruptors and interfere with brain development.
If you want to steer clear of flame retardants entirely, choose snug-fitting pjs made from a natural fiber, such as organic cotton. No stray sleeve can catch a flame, and there's scant air between the fabric and the skin to feed any flames. How can you tell if the item you wish to purchase is flame-retardant-free? Look for the hang tag that says "must be snug fitting" and "not flame resistant."
...to your health
Buying clothes that are free of pesticides, formaldehyde, flame retardants, and heavy-metal dyes can reduce your exposure to these dangerous substances.
...to your wallet
If you shop your closet instead of buying new, you'll save loads of money.
...to the Earth
Choosing green clothing prevents the release of pesticides into the environment and conserves resources. Avoiding clothes treated with toxic substances could help reduce use of industrial chemicals in the clothing industry.
- Buying miracle clothing. Who doesn't want the pants that miraculously repel stains? And water-repellant clothing can be a godsend. But unfortunately, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are used to make most stain- and water-repellant clothing, and they include compounds that are probable or suspected carcinogens.
- Thinking "organic" is the end of the story. Certain fabric treatments can taint even the most sustainably grown fibers. Beware of clothing dyes that contain heavy metals, including lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium. Fabric finishes such as "permanent press" signal the use of industrial chemicals such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Whitening is usually done with chlorine, which results in the release of dioxin, a carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
Before you shop, take an inventory to figure out exactly what clothing you need, and buy nothing more.