Staggering fact: the clothes we wear have become so disposable, that textiles are one of the leading causes of pollution in the world today. So qualified for these reasons:
- The shear volume of textiles being disposed of has more than quadrupled
- More and more fabrics are made from synthetic materials that aren’t biodegradable
- Harmful toxic chemicals are used in textile production
- Production, distribution, and disposal negatively impact all three elements vital for life on earth – land, water, air
I know you read your food labels, but do you read your clothing labels? Clothes are made from some funky textiles these days, divided into two categories: natural, and man-made.
Here is a list of the most toxic textiles, and why:
- Polyester is the worst fabric you can buy. It is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.
- Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.
- Rayon is recycled wood pulp that must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulfuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing.
- Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
- Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
- Anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellent. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.
All textiles undergo significant processing (even in natural fibers), here are some of the problematic chemicals used:
- Detergents – to clean
- Petrochemical dyes
- Formaldehyde to prevent shrinkage
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Dioxin-producing bleach
- Chemical fabric softeners to make fabric pliable
Some of the chemicals used in production contain heavy metals, like mercury, or lead. Although this is a large scale, global problem, it is an easy one to tackle. Just start here:
- From now on, try to buy only biodegradable fabrics, i.e. made from natural materials. Avoid buying synthetic fabrics that don’t breakdown (this is easier for the kids than it is for us, cotton denims or jeans, cotton t-shirts and hoodies, animal fiber jerseys, hats and scarves and you are all set!)
- Buy classics. Follow the 80/20 rule. Strive to have 80% of your wardrobe made up of ‘classics’ that don’t age or go out of style as quickly, and accessorize with the latest seasonal trend rather than buying whole outfits that will be outdated in three months
- Don’t forget your linens – sheets, bath towels, table linen
I’m always very inspired by anybody who takes the time, trouble, and care, to go at something like this 100% and replaces all textiles in their home with 100% organic chemical-free options. But every little bit helps, and if we all start with one little change, we will have a massive impact, it’s not an all or nothing solution.
Here are some other interesting facts:
- did you know that Americans now buy five times as much clothing as we did in 1980?
- the volume of textile trash rose 40% between 1999 and 2009 and it is directly related to the production of cheap, disposable clothing
- 20% of fish brought from supermarkets contain synthetic microfibers that have been washed into our waterways with our laundry water
In our next newsletter, we will be talking about easy things we can do to reduce, re-purpose and recycle our clothing to keep it out of landfills.