Clothes and the Environment

I was going to use the word ‘fashion’ in the heading of this post but then realised that you can’t get much further from fashion than my wardrobe!  I wear clothes for years and don’t buy many new ones so I know very little about fashion.

In Eco circles July is often referred to as ‘Plastic Free July’ but inspired by my hero Jen Gale I prefer to think of it as ‘plastic-less’ July.  I defy anyone to get rid of plastic in their lives, even for one month, but all hail to those who can.

One area Jen has look at is clothes, so I decided I would too.  Why clothes you may ask, when you’re looking at plastic?  There are several reasons, both moral and environmental.

  • Synthetic clothes (nylon, polyester, acrylic) are made from man-made ie plastic fibres. Every item of clothing made from synthetic materials is full of plastic
  • Plastic is made from hydrocarbons which in turn come mostly from fossil sources1. The extraction of oil and gas is disastrous for the environment.  If you would like more details on this click here
  • When synthetic clothes are washed, thousands of microfibres are released into the
    Microplastics. 1 µm= 1mm Credit

    waste water. These fibres are so tiny they avoid almost all filters and end up in the oceans.  Sea life swallow them by the million.  When fish eat the plastic fibres, the plastic fills their stomachs and gets stuck there. They feel full and eventually starve to death.  If it they don’t die from malnutrition the fibres which have reached their cells end up being eaten further up the food chain, ultimately by us.  Research has not yet investigated the harmful effects on humans but I can’t imagine it does us any good. Sewage treatment has made some inroads into this problem but there is still a long way to go.

  • In addition to the fish that humans consume, microplastics have also been found in sea salt that is used for food seasoning. According to a study, between 550 and 681 particles of microplastic can be found in just one kilogram of sea salt2. The most abundant type of microplastic found in sea salt is polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly known in the textile industry as polyester.
  • Very cheap clothes, often referred to as ‘Fast Fashion’, are usually made in third world countries by workers, mainly female, working in terrible conditions. These workers typically earn 2% of the final retail price of each garment.  One of the most powerful snippets of TV ever was on Years and Years.  Watch it, it’s stunning (and only lasts a couple of minutes).
  • Even cotton, which doesn’t shed plastic, has its pitfalls. It has been calculated that it takes 270L of water to produce one cotton t-shirt.
  • Fabric covered with beads and sequins and produced in the third world is likely to have been worked on by children being paid a pittance.

So what can we do about all this?  Research will throw up tons of ideas but this is what I am going with for myself:

  1. Do less washing. I automatically have been chucking all of my clothes (with the exception of jeans) into the wash basket at the end of the day.  This month I have started checking things as I take them off and found that actually, they don’t always need washing.  This has also helped our water consumption.
  2. Buy a Guppy Friend. For me the jury is still out on these but people I respect seem to rate them.  It is a laundry bag in which part of load can be placed in the machine.  The bag then ‘catches’ most of the microfibres which have to then be scraped into the bin.  In Bristol this doesn’t go to landfill but is burned in a sustainable way.
  3. Hassle the washing machine manufacturers to fit micro-plastic filters. I wrote to a couple last year but will step this up.  Maybe a petition?
  4. Try to buy clothes in sustainable fabrics if buying new. I actually don’t buy that 2020-04-08 22.03.33many new clothes but when I do I’ll do my best to avoid both sythentic and cotton materials.  The great Jen Gale, in her recent webinar, suggested that Tencel©  Lyocel, Hemp and Linen are the best way forward.  I’m proud to say that I already own one item made from Tencel©  which I’ve not worn yet (Lockdown) but it’s gorgeous and feels so soft.
  5. Wear the clothes I have which are cotton. Pretty sure I don’t own any linen!
  6. Do an audit of my wardrobe. Remove anything which doesn’t fit or doesn’t suit me2020-07-03 12.49.48-1 and take it to the charity shop.  Hopefully by donating sellable stuff someone else may not buy something new.  I’m not yet much good at re-purposing old clothes, although I did make a shopping bag from an old t-shirt.  If anyone would like one, let me know.



7. Own less Stuff. I really don’t need as much stuff as I have – do you?

The thing with plastic is that it can never truly be recycled.  It can be down-cycled (eg a few years ago it was thought that making fleeces out of plastic bottle was the answer.  It’s not.  Every time those fleeces are washed, more fish die).  If you ever see a label “made from recycled plastic” know that virgin plastic has been used too.  This why I believe that single-use plastic should not be used where possible (I get that in medical situations it is invaluable), preferable in favour of re-usables.  If not that then materials such as aluminium and paper can be recycled many times.

So I’ve got a few things to work on – is there anything there you may think about (or already do)?  Do let me know.

  1. ‘Plastic free’ by Beth Terry
  2. news 30.12.2018

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