Another everyday choice we make that has a big impact on the environment is what we wear. Like the food choices in Tip no. 1, buying and disposing of clothing and other textiles has a much larger effect on the planet than most of us realise, because most of it is indirect. For example, when you take a shorter shower or water the garden with greywater from the laundry, you’re reducing your direct water use. But when you buy a new T-shirt, 2,700 litres of water has been used (on average) to create it. You might not have been the one who turned on the irrigation at the cotton plantation or filled the dye vats at the factory, but that much water – the equivalent of filling your bath 36 times – has been used to make something for you. And if that sounds like a lot, consider the water footprint of the average pair of denim jeans: 10,800 litres!
Textiles have other effects on the environment, too. Around 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton crops. Greenhouse Gas emissions are created when the raw materials are transported and processed, and again when the fabric is sewn into garments and shipped to retailers. And when we throw a garment that’s torn, stained or no longer wanted in the bin, it becomes landfill, creating pollution and further GhGs (such as methane) as it breaks down. Synthetic textiles, of course, won’t break down for many lifetimes, if at all.
One easy way to reduce our environmental footprints, then, is not to buy or throw out new clothes! Here are two key things you can do instead:
- Resist those ads for cheap, fast fashion! Consider whether you really need that jacket or dress – and if you do, try shopping for one secondhand instead. Op shop styles are better for the planet and SO much cheaper!
- Learn to mend, resize or upcycle the clothes and other textiles you already have. Found a hole in your knitwear? Can’t get that coffee stain out? Lost a button or two? The internet is full of instructions on how to invisibly or decoratively mend clothing (try Pinterest!). You can also find out how to print or dye fabrics, patch holes and turn old clothes into something new in my Make the Future books. Here’s a page from the most recent one to help you.