Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Everything has an environmental impact

I try to reduce my footprint, but I know I can do more. We can all do more — always — even the most eco-conscious of us.

I recently read "Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry," in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and it made me think.
Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it "fast fashion," the clothing equivalent of fast food.
Some things I knew, some other I didn't:
  • Polyester, the most widely used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum.
  • The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease.
  • Cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibers, accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States.
  • Fierce global competition in the garment industry translates into poor working conditions for many laborers in developing nations.
  • Some Chinese textile workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour, according to the U.S. National Labor Committee.
  • Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste, according to the EPA. And this figure is rapidly growing.

There are rays of hope:
  • The U.S. government offers tax incentives for citizens who donate household goods to charities such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries, which salvage a portion of clothing and textiles that would otherwise go to landfills or incinerators.
  • Shopping at these kinds of stores is increasing — a 2006 survey conducted by America's Research Group, a consumer trends research firm, found that about 12–15% of Americans shop at consignment or resale stores.
  • The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that 2.5 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste is collected for resale, and thus prevented from entering directly into landfills.
  • The International Standards Organization (ISO) is developing standards for a labeling system to identify garments that meet criteria as environmentally friendly.
  • While it still only represents 0.03% of worldwide cotton production, the sale of organic cotton fiber grew by an estimated 22.7% in 2004, over the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association.
  • Sales of organic cotton women's clothing grew by a healthy 33% in 2004.
  • In 2004, Wal-Mart, America's largest retailer, began selling organic cotton women's shirts at its Sam's Club stores. Today the company is the world's largest buyer of organic cotton, offering several lines of organic cotton apparel.
  • Patagonia has been selling fleece clothing made from postconsumer plastic soda bottles since 1993. The company estimates that between 1993 and 2006 it saved 86 million soda bottles from ending up in the landfill.
Read the full article...

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