What Goes into Clothes
Fashion magazines promote new styles for every season. Everybody needs clothes, but before you purchase that must-have sweater or perfect-fit pair of jeans, consider what goes into the manufacturing of those garments. Fashion can be a dirty business, but choosing clothes that are made with environmentally friendly materials ensures it doesn't have to be that way.
Clothing is a process that starts with either renewable or nonrenewable feedstock, which is treated and woven, dyed, and sewn to produce a piece of clothing. The clothing may have started out as a fossil fuel, or a cotton plant, with many workers and manufacturing and transportation processes along the way.
Most synthetic threads like polyester are made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource that even during the refining process produces contaminants. Synthetic fabrics and clothing are durable and relatively nondestructible, which means they don't easily degrade. And when it comes to athletic clothing and sportswear, synthetic and synthetic blends that wick away moisture are hard to beat. Some companies such as Patagonia accept used synthetic clothing for reuse as feedstock in their new synthetic blend fabrics.
When choosing clothing, check the labels and consider limiting clothes that require dry cleaning. Also, as a substitute to dry cleaning, some fabrics can be hand-washed instead — but not all. Don't forget, the dry-cleaning process is hard on the fabric as well as on the environment.
Once clothes are in your closet, how you wash and care for them also impacts the environment. This is particularly true of dry cleaning. The traditional dry-cleaning process uses solvents with a little water to remove soil from dirty clothes. The solvent most often used by dry cleaners is perchloroethylene, known in the industry as perc. When spilled on the ground, perc leaches into groundwater. Because it is denser than water, it sinks in the aquifer, making remediation costly and complicated. Perc is also released into the air during the cleaning process and is a hazardous air pollutant at certain levels. There are many green alternatives to dry cleaning today, including using carbon dioxide, the same gas that makes soda fizzy, under high pressure to clean clothes. One alternative in particular is GreenEarth (GE) Cleaning. Because the cleaning system relies on biodegradable silicone-based solvents, harmful chemicals don't linger on your clothes or in the environment. GE facilities can be found at www.greenearthcleaning.com.