Monday, September 7, 2009

Recyclable Clothing

According to the U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans dispose of 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. While glass and aluminum recycling have pervaded national consciousness, we need to become more aware of the environmental repercussions of clothing production and the avenues for recycling our clothes.

The information below is from Earth 911's website and provides insight into the impact of what goes into our clothing:
  • Polyester, the most commonly used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases into the air. The process also uses a large amount of water for cooling.
  • The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
  • Rayon, derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make way for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is derived.
  • Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt.
  • When manufacturing clothes, dyeing requires a hefty amount of water, and its fixatives often flow into rivers and sewers. Also, all 'easy care' and 'permanent press' cottons are treated with formadehyde."

For more information on the environmental impact of the clothing industry, see the "Waste Couture" report in Environews.

In 2005, Patagonia created it Common Threads Garment Recycling Program, which aims to make all Patagonia products recyclable by 2010. While the company has faced challenges in this mission, it exemplifies corporate social responsibility for consumers, investors, and others in the industry.

Moving from awareness to action, what is our role? Earth 911 suggests that if you are going to buy new clothes, purchase those made with sustainable materials: sustainable cotton, hemp, and bamboo. The following is a directory of stores that sell sustainable clothing:

An even better option (if you need to purchase at all) is used clothing: "The 12 to 15 percent of people who shopped at consignment and thrift stores in 2006 saved 2.5 billion pounds of clothes from re-entering the waste stream."

You can also do your part by recycling clothes you do not want. This can be done by selling them online; donating to organizations like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or Purple Heart; or setting up a community sharing event like the one I wrote about below.

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