Thursday, November 16, 2006
Hippie Steps -- Week Four

The focus of this week's Slate/Treehugger challenge is on clothing.

Now you are saying, "But Supergirl, what does Clothing have to do with the environment?" and I have to admit that I asked myself this same question when I opened my weekly email from Slate/Treehugger. The email really opened my eyes to how clothing (and this includes my knitting/yarn) is manufactured.

Your closet may not be the first place you'd think to look to reduce your CO2 output. But clothing manufacture involves agriculture, industry, and commerce, so our fashion choices make a statement about greenhouse gasses as well as style.

Chances are that a good portion of what's hanging in your closet is made from cotton. The fiber is tough to grow, so cotton farmers use enormous amounts of energy-intensive, CO2-emitting chemicals and fertilizers. To produce one pair of regular cotton jeans takes three-quarters of a pound of fertilizers and pesticides. Each T-shirt takes one-third of a pound. The farming of organic fibers, by contrast, releases less CO2 into the air and uses 50 percent less energy. Cotton, hemp, bamboo, ramie, linen, and silk can all be grown organically. (And hemp and bamboo are pretty good for your CO2 count, even when they're not organic, because they need little if any fertilizer to grow.) Organic wool, alpaca, and cashmere are also excellent choices. So is lyocell, a textile made from wood pulp. Anything in your closet made of nylon, polyester, or acrylic, on the other hand, comes drenched in CO2-laden petroleum (not literally, but you get the idea).

We're not suggesting you overhaul your entire closet in one fell retail-therapy swoop. Instead, below are a variety of incremental ideas for curbing your closet's CO2 appetite. If only the carbon pounds you shed could help you squeeze into this season's pencil-thin organic-cotton jeans …
• Aside from your refrigerator, your dryer is your household's most energy-sucking appliance. To increase its efficiency and save CO2 emissions, put it in a part of the house that's typically warm. Clean the lint filter after each load and only turn it on when it's full. If your dryer features a moisture-sensor option, use it. This ensures the machine will automatically shut off when the clothes are dry. Better yet, line-dry your clothes whenever possible so you're using no energy at all.

I am going to try to line-dry more of my clothing more often. Not only will I save energy but I believe this will help my clothing last longer.

• If your washing machine has spin options, set it to a high or extended-spin setting. This will ring clothes out as much as possible before you put them in the dryer.

I am going to try this too but only on clothing that won’t be affected by the extra spin. Now the bigger problem will be figuring out how to set the washer’s spin options. I’m sure it can’t be too hard and I think I’m smarter than the washing machine but let’s not count the washer out yet!

• Buy organic. Though there's no government label for organic clothing like the one for organic food, most manufacturers let you know.

Another great idea! This will require some research but I like research!

• Look for clothes that use recycled content. The environmental impact of recycling worn-out polyester into new polyester fiber, for instance, is significantly lower than making that same fiber anew. CO2 savings can be as high as 71 percent in the case of Patagonia's recycled Capilene base layers, and the company's Synchilla fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Another fantastic idea! I love the idea of recycling that you can see.

• Donate your used, unwanted clothing and shoes instead of throwing them away. This averts the CO2 emissions that come from incinerating them or sending them to a landfill.

I already do this because I know that others can use the clothes that I’ve either grown tired of or no longer fit. The only fly in this ointment is that now that Mot has moved away, who will take my stuff to the shelter? MOT! I’m not sure if I even know where the shelter is!

• We don't expect you to go to work in rags, but buying vintage or used clothes is a great way to cut down on the CO2 costs associated with farming and manufacturing.

I used to think that people visited Thrift stores because they didn’t have enough money for new clothing but NOW I see it as a great way to recycle while getting awesome clothing at great prices. Seattle has some wonderful consignment stores and I’ll be visiting them the next time I need a new outfit. Not that I’ll ever stop shopping for new clothing but I do like the option of getting good clothing at great prices just because someone else wore them for a bit.

• Choose quality over quantity. Buying things you'll wear for a long time saves energy and reduces trash.

Mom? Did you write this one? This is something my Mom and Mot have told me for years and they are completely right. If you buy a great pair of pants for a few more bucks but you wear them for 6 years over a pair that you spend less on but wear for only one year, the in the end you are saving yourself money, time and now I’m finding out the environment.

• Choose clothes made from hemp and bamboo. Think you'll look like a hippie? Think again.

Well If I really want to be a Hippie, I’ll need to consider this option.

• Cows create loads of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Could you buy fewer shoes made from leather, and give canvas and hemp a chance?

Ermmm, I kinda like my leather shoes but I’ll consider this option.

So after reading all these interesting facts, I took the Week Four Action Quiz where I scored 797, which means I've promised to take the annual equivalent of 0.08 cars off the road.

Here are some of the numbers Slate/Treehugger used in their calculations:

• The average American disposes of about 66 pounds of clothing and shoes each year, according to the Gaia Movement Trust. Donating instead of tossing saves about 165 pounds of CO 2 emissions per person per year.

• Using only cold or warm water to wash your clothes saves energy and about 150 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

• Swapping the dryer for the clothes line saves 350 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

• Purchasing an Energy Star washing machine saves an average of 257 pounds of CO2 emissions per person per year.
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