Happy Holiday Season! While shopping in our small but struggling to reemerge old mill town, I was happy to support a new local clothing store. Happy enough to drop more than I usually would on leggings and a flannel tunic – but it was local! The leggings were recycled! The flannel was…well, cute. I felt transformed. That’s one reason we buy clothes. They make us feel good. That and we are tempted and chastised into buying “new.” Or are compelled to give! Give! GIVE! And buy! Buy! BUY! While picking through the racks, Elena the owner asked if there was anything I needed. “Just looking,” I said. Then she said something odd for a shop owner, “We don’t really need anything, do we? We really just buy different styles of the same thing over and over again.” Which is true. So what happens to last year’s stuff? And the year before that. And the decade before that?
Each year here in the U.S. we toss about 13 million tons of clothing. Even those of us who are squeamish at the thought of not recycling a plastic bottle don’t think much about bagging up our clothes. After all, they’ll go to someone who needs them (if you believe that, read this.) But there is also a health and environmental cost of disposing of all those clothes. And there is the cost of making all those clothes. Releases of tributyltin (TBT) known to cause female snails to grow penises on their heads (yes you just read that) for example, or releases of the persistent thyroid toxicants PBDEs, and other endocrine disruptive chemicals including phthalates. Some of these chemicals like those belonging to the PFOS family help to keep us dry, but also eventually collect in the fat stores and mother’s milk of polar bears and whales. Viscose and rayon rely in part on logging as trees are transformed into tees that will be worn for just a fraction of the lifetime of an old growth tree. And there is the health cost (this 10-year old article is still all too relevant) to those who produce the textiles, the vibrant blues and reds of our fabric, and stitch them into the treasures we find on the rack. The point is, as much as we love our clothing, there are costs involved both to human health and to the environment.
So I was happy to read this from Yale’s 360:
In the U.S. and around the world, a growing number of environmentalists and clothing industry executives say it’s time to end the wasteful clothing culture and begin making new apparel out of old items on a large scale.
I am cautiously hopeful. This isn’t just about recycling shirts and socks, but about about closing the loop on all parts of the business. Reducing chemical waste and toxic chemicals — which will in turn help reduce environmental and human exposures (to a point.) The idea of “closing the loop” has been out there for decades but advances in technologies may move this forward making it increasingly more feasible. We ought to wear our clothes over and over and over again…but that doesn’t mean we have to wear the same thing. And, we ought to all be able to afford responsible textiles.
If you are so inclined here’s a random list of companies making an effort (though not all are affordable to all…which is why I begin with the “affordable” list from Ecocult):
If you are interested in the process on a large scale see here.
Also, here is an interesting bit from MassDEP for those of you who have worn those jeans through to their next life (while the excess is still a problem, there are options, if not for recycling, then reuse.)
Contrary to popular belief, donations in any condition are welcomed by for-profit and non-profit textile collectors alike. This includes items with stains, rips, missing buttons or broken zippers. Why? Textiles are a valuable commodity! Items that don’t sell in a thrift store are baled and sold to brokers or graders who sell to overseas markets. In developing nations, used clothing and textiles supply local enterprises with materials to repair and resell.
Thank you for reading. If you like, please forward to a friend. Maybe they want to make their Tuesdays a little more Toxic too!