What’s in Your Laundry?

shutterstock_182358728Recently, we wrote an article about greenwashing and although we stand by what we said, when Sabine Weber of Sustainable Strategies and Solutions tells you that something was missed, you need to stand corrected.

In our article we asserted that many fashion manufacturers were concentrating on the end of life cycle to distract from where the environmental crisis lies which is in toxic, unsustainable and inequitable manufacturing practices. Although this is true, it turns out that rectifying these issues in fashion manufacturing is far more complicated than just a commitment to sustainability. Much like the export sector, the manufacturing sector is a multifaceted global industry, and all decisions made have global ramifications and not all decisions are easy to make.

The perfect example that SS&S used to illustrate this point was the debate on organic cotton. Although it is true that organic cotton is free of added toxins such as pesticides and produced without fertilizer their low yields require far more land to farm and land is a finite resource.  In fact, Organic cotton productivity is lower than conventional cotton, may be as high as 50% less creating concerns about its viability as replacement fibre to conventional cotton – would require more land So is it really that sustainable in comparison? What she pointed out, is that in fashion manufacturing there really is no blanket solution for many of the issues that the sector is struggling with.

Another example she used was the use of Chromium 6 in leather applications in China. Known to be cancer causing, the use of this toxin is highly problematic but legislation is required in order to prevent the import of goods containing this substance given it’s prevalence in the Chinese manufacturing process. Even if this legislation is passed locally, how are we able to monitor and enforce it when items are produced overseas?

She also pointed out that even with all the toxic and unsustainable practises that we see in textile/fashion manufacturing, the manufacturing process is actually still not what is causing the most environmental damage in relation to the clothes we wear.

Sabine pointed out that if people truly want to be activists in greening the fashion sector, the area we should all focus our public narrative on isn’t manufacturing or end of life, but actually the laundering of garments. More environmental damage is done during the lifespan of a garment because of laundering practices than all the toxicity of manufacturing and landfilling textiles. The problem is that no one is talking about it, because as she puts it, doing laundry is not a sexy subject and does not really positively influence anyone’s bottom line.

The clothes dryer is what uses the most energy and contributes the most greenhouse gases – an easy tip she offered was to put your clothing through a second spin cycle effectively reducing the length of time required in your clothes dryer.

Ultimately the goal would be to have the majority of area residents when possible dry their clothing outdoors – many municipalities actually have bylaws prohibiting that practice because of aesthetics. What is required is a shift in legislation to reflect a new priority. Not only should area residents be permitted to dry their laundry outdoors naturally, they should be encouraged to! This change alone would have the most drastic impact on the environmental damage that results from the use of textiles.

In terms of the washing of garments, some tips she offered were to launder less often (wearing solid undergarments can often extend how many times you can wear a garment in between washes, and undergarments use less water and drying time than actual garments-no more going commando!)

Launder in cooler temperature at 30°C  water and while washing turn the inside of your garment outside not only to save energy but also to reduce the amount of dyes that bleed into the water stream.

Additionally, front loading washing machines use far less water than top load machines.

Proper laundering also extends the life and quality of a garment, so even if local resident consumption patterns still has them dispose at the same rate, if we are able to divert that from landfill, the quality will be better making the whole diversion process more economically viable. The t-shirt will more likely be sold for reuse as opposed to shredded for upholstery.

We have since made a commitment that we will include more tips and information for area residents on how to properly care for their garments to extend their life and reduce the environmental impact of laundering.

Not only will Textile Waste Diversion help you dispose of your items responsibly, we plan on helping you make the most of your favourite outfits while you still have them!

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