In a recent post, we learned the high environmental cost associated with clothing. So what is a conscientious consumer to do? Growing your own cotton and weaving your own cloth is rarely an option and you can't go to next week's board meeting naked! Let's explore some better choices for fabrics and little things you can do to take care of your clothes to reduce your clothing's overall environmental impact.

Friendlier fabrics

  • The U.S. is one of the top producers of organic cotton. Growers use only natural pest control methods and fertilizers. Much of this clothing is also dyed and bleached more responsibly, too.
  • Hemp is easy to grow with little need for pest control, and it naturally enriches the soil it is grown in. Cultivation of hemp in the United States is limited because it is classified as a drug. Even though it is related to the marijuana plant, hemp has no psychogenic properties.
  • Bamboo grows very quickly and requires very little if any pest control or fertilizer. However, the process to turn bamboo into fabric is very energy-intensive and often uses caustic chemicals.
  • Linen is made from flax, which takes less fertilizer and pest control to grow than cotton and is biodegradable.
  • Organic wool comes from farms that use sustainable practices and don't use toxic dips on sheep.
  • Recycled polyester usually comes from soda bottles, or any PET plastic with the recycling symbol 1 on the bottom.

No matter what fabric you buy – natural, synthetic, organic or recycled – make sure the piece of clothing is well-made so it will last. The best way to reduce the environmental impact of clothing is to buy less of it and make sure it is useful in your wardrobe for as long as possible. You can also shop at thrift stores and consignment shops to give someone else's wardrobe a second life.

What you can do at home

At least 60 percent of a T-shirt's lifecycle energy use comes after it is purchased. That means there's a lot you can do to reduce the impact your clothing makes on the environment.

  • Wash your laundry in cold water. Most of the energy used by your washing machine is consumed by heating water. Cold water will do just as good a job cleaning your clothes and today many detergents are designed to work best in cold water.
  • Forgo the dryer. Set up a clothesline outside, or even set one up inside if you need to. An electric clothes dryer is an energy-intensive appliance and the less you use it the better.
  • Don't dry clean your clothes. Hand wash them if you can or find an eco-friendly dry cleaner in your area that doesn't use perc, short for perchloroethylene, a probable carcinogen that can damage the central nervous system, kidneys and liver as well as cause breathing problems. Some studies even suggest that traces of perc can stay on your clothes for up to six months after being dry cleaned!
  • Don't clean your clothes as often. Washing and drying puts wear and tear on your clothes. Unless they're actually dirty or smelly, hang up your sweaters, shirts and pants to wear at least one more time before you launder them.

With a change of consciousness, it is possible to reduce the impact your wardrobe has on the environment, but no one said it was going to be easy.

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