There Are Many Ways to Act Locally
This One’s About as Local as You Can Get!

Fig Leaves Are Out. What to Wear to Be Kind to the Planet?.

By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERGMAY 24, 2017

In the Garden of Eden, figuring out what to wear was easy and the fig leaves were environmentally friendly. Today, it’s much harder to find clothes that don’t have some kind of negative impact on the planet.Textile manufacturers use complicated chemical and industrial processes to make clothing materials, from cotton to synthetic fibers. And while the environmental consequences aren’t always clear, consumption is growing. Americans spent 14 percent more on clothing and footwear in 2016 — around $350 billion total — than they did in 2011

Synthetic fibers wind up in unexpected places.

Polyester, the most common fiber, is made from a plastic derived from crude oil.

Synthetic fibers — polyester, nylon and others — make up more than 60 percent of the global fiber market by some estimates. Most are made from oil, a nonrenewable resource. . . . .

Synthetic fibers shed plastic filaments — possibly from daily wear and tear, but also in the wash. If shed in the laundry, the filaments can make it into sewer systems and eventually into waterways. Even if these microplastics are trapped at filtration plants, they can end up in sludge produced by the facilities, which is often sent to farms to be used as fertilizer. From there, the fibers can make their way into other water systems, or into the digestive tracts of animals that graze on the fertilized plants. . . . .

Scientists have not been able to fully quantify the scale of the problem, but early research showed that plastic fibers are among the most abundant environmental debris in the world, according to Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Cotton is natural, but not all natural.

Fabric made from 100 percent cotton, which accounts for about 3 percent of global water use. . . . .

Cotton’s share of the textile market is declining, but cotton production still uses just over 2 percent of the world’s arable land and accounts for about 3 percent of global water use, according to the United Nations.

Cotton also requires pesticides. According to the Department of Agriculture, 7 percent of all pesticides in the United States are used on cotton. Many of those chemicals seep into the ground or run off into surface water. Consumers can choose organic cotton grown without pesticides, but it uses more water and requires more land than conventional crops. Organic cotton can also be much more expensive and difficult to find.

Rayon is made from plants — and also chemicals.

Rayon, one of the first man-made fibers.

Rayon, one of the first man-made fibers, was developed from plant fibers as a substitute for silk in the 19th century. Most rayon today is produced as viscose rayon, which is treated with chemicals, including carbon disulfide. Chronic exposure to carbon disulfide can cause serious health problems for rayon workers, including Parkinson’s disease, premature heart attack and stroke . . . . .

Viscose rayon is often made from bamboo. In Indonesia and other areas, producers are cutting down old-growth forests to plant bamboo for rayon, said Frances Kozen, associate director of the Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation. Ms. Kozen warned that viscose rayon is often wrongly marketed as environmentally friendly because it is derived from bamboo. The Federal Trade Commission has required retailers to provide accurate labels.

If viscose rayon is produced mechanically from bamboo instead of chemically, which is sometimes known as “bamboo linen,” it has a relatively small environmental impact, but it is much more expensive. Another type of rayon fiber, known as lyocell or Tencel, is often made from bamboo but uses a different chemical that is thought to be less toxic, though studies are scarce . . . .

Wool might be less practical, but it’s probably more sustainable.

Wool would be the ecologically friendly choice, if not for sheep’s methane-emitting belches.

Producing wool requires sheep. And sheep, like other ruminants including cattle, produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, in their burps. One study suggested that 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the wool industry come from the sheep themselves.

Still, Ms. Kozen said she considered wool to be more ecologically sound than cotton, rayon or synthetic fibers, though she added that not everyone shares that view. [SEnRG notes that methane is 86 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period!]

So what can you do?

SEnRG suggests doing what we do – shop at your local Thrift Store or tag sales. Wash clothes in cold water to save on energy and make them last longer. Save up (thrift store shopping helps) to buy items made from organic plant fibers (organic cotton or rayon) and swap clothing with friends to give your wardrobe a fresh look without adding chemicals, microfibers, or methane to our air, water, and food supply.
Oh yes – and skip the “nanoparticles” used in some “high-tech” clothing.  They are often microscopic computers that have not been tested for safety on you body or in our environment!

 

To read the full New York Times article click below:  

 

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