We aren’t all fig leaves and loin cloths anymore (Part 1)

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:

  1. The shear volume of textiles being disposed of has more than quadrupled
  2.  More and more fabrics are made from synthetic materials that aren’t biodegradable
  3. Harmful toxic chemicals are used in textile production
  4. Production, distribution, and disposal negatively impact all three elements vital for life on earth – land, water, air

Vintage clothes for sale inside a shop

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.
  3. 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.
  4. Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
  5. Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
  6. 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:

  1. 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!)
  2. 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
  3. 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:

  1. did you know that Americans now buy five times as much clothing as we did in 1980?
  2. the volume of textile trash rose 40% between 1999 and 2009 and it is directly related to the production of cheap, disposable clothing
  3. 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.




3 thoughts on “We aren’t all fig leaves and loin cloths anymore (Part 1)

  1. Linda says:

    You bring up a very interesting subject. I have been striving to buy all my clothes, shoes, and household goods with a made in the USA label attached. It’s not always easy but I’ve been pleased with myself for the effort that I’ve put forth and the determination to stick with it. I hadn’t for a moment thought about the manufacturing process of theses items! So, now, I add another layer of thought to each and every purchase. It’s a giant learning curve that is hard to get above. Thank you for providing the information. Have you discovered anything about bamboo fabrics? What about organic cottons? Is it a worth our dollars or are they an environmental offender too in sheeps clothing?


    • sson2f says:

      There are so many layers, aren’t there?

      Bamboo fabrics are deliciously soft to wear, and will fall under the ‘rayon’ label. In the U.S. the label will actually read ‘Bamboo Rayon’ if the rayon is made from bamboo (instead of another plant fibre). Unfortunately, the process of turning the bamboo into fabric is not eco-friendly, and by the time it is spun into thread, it is actually only 15% bamboo. In the layered scheme of things, bamboo rayon is better than acrylic or polyester, but not as good as cotton or animal fiber.

      Organic cottons are worth our dollars. Non-organic cottons are responsible for about 20% of the worlds total pesticide use.

      So, short of buying my own sheep, spinning my own fiber, hand dyeing it with plant based dyes – what to do? I think there are lots of ways we can do better, and it is up to each person to do what they can, be it one, or all:
      – buy clothes made from raw materials that have been sourced sustainably
      – buy clothes that have been made from raw materials that have been processed responsibly (one of the hardest things to do as there is little to no transparency)
      – buy clothes that will do least amount of damage to your health (lowest chemical input)
      – buy clothes that will last the longest
      – buy clothes that are biodegradable
      – re-purpose, reuse, and pass on whenever you can


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s