In university, Craig achieved infamy for the fashion crime of wearing far too many yellow shirts. His friends staged an intervention, removing all the offending garments from his closet and sending him on a shopping spree for trendier threads.
Recently, our staffers got together for what's become an annual event -- the office clothing swap. Everyone eagerly rummages through their coworkers cast-offs in search of their new favourite blouse, or pair of jeans.
Reduce, reuse and recycle has become the mantra of socially conscious consumers.
It made us wonder whatever became of Craig's canary-coloured clothes. It also got us thinking about the environmental impact of waste clothing.
In North America, consumers are buying -- and getting rid of -- five times as much clothing as we did 25 years ago, reports Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (Portfolio, 2013). A staggering 85 per cent of our collective apparel ends up in a landfill -- that's over 10.5 million tons of clothing, according to the popular second-hand store Value Village. In a single year, Canada produces enough textile waste -- clothing and other goods like upholstery -- to create a mountain three times the size of Toronto's Rogers Centre stadium.
Reduce, reuse and recycle has become the mantra of socially conscious consumers. Now we need to extend that philosophy to our old accoutrements.
The most popular solution appears to be donating our unwanted garb. Thrift stores like those run by the YWCA across Canada not only keep old clothes out of the dump; they're also social enterprises that support community non-profits. Some charities, like the Canadian Diabetes Association, will even come to your door to collect apparel and household goods, which are resold to fund their life-changing work.
But giving away clothes is not without its pitfalls. Many of the big street-corner donation bins you can spot in any community are not affiliated with a charitable cause. If the bin doesn't clearly belong to an organization like the Salvation Army, there's a good chance a for-profit company is collecting and reselling the clothing. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It still keeps waste out of our landfills.
Perhaps the best way to reduce the amount of clothing in our landfills is to curb our desire to sport the latest trends.
The catch is that up to half of the apparel is sold overseas -- most of it in developing countries. In 2015, US$17.8 million worth of used Canadian clothing ended up in Kenya, alone. Developing countries can use a hand up but giving them our hand-me-downs can be devastating for struggling economies and harm their manufacturing and retail businesses. That's why it is best to ensure the skinny jeans you want to trade in for flares go to a charity.
What about clothing that's too worn to donate? New technologies are recovering textile fibres to make into new fabrics, or other products like insulation. There are textile recycling companies across Canada that will take your dead duds. You can find them easily with a quick web search. And now some cities, like Markham, Ont., are even launching recycling programs for fabrics, alongside their blue bins for glass, plastic and paper.
Perhaps the best way to reduce the amount of clothing in our landfills is to curb our desire to sport the latest trends. Don't toss those tapered-leg trousers because Vogue says they're "out." Embrace the socially conscious trend of -- gasp -- wearing last year's styles.
If you yawn with boredom whenever you open your wardrobe, host a clothing swap with your friends. When your jeans get a little tear in the knee, spend your money on a repair service instead of a new pair.
And the next time you see that guy from the IT department walking around in a wide-lapel sports jacket, don't laugh. Give him a high-five. He's being environmentally responsible, and that never goes out of style.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.
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The issue: Who would have thought that being a fashionista could take such a toll on the environment? Unfortunately, according to the Indian Textile Journal, the textile industry is one of the biggest creators of wastewater worldwide. The EPA claims that it takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one pair of jeans. Most of the water is used in the "wet processing" and dyeing of materials. The fix: The industry itself is making strides in cutting down their waste. According to the New York Times, companies are using innovative measures to combat wastewater, such as AirDye technology and counter-current rinsing. Still, there is a long way to go. One way that you can cut down on textile waste is to reuse and recycle. Need a pair of jeans? Check out Goodwill, or a nearby consignment shop. Want a bright red shirt? Buy a dye-free light material, and color the shirt yourself.
The issue: For those who live through tortuous summer heat, nothing can beat a refreshing, chlorinated backyard pool. But sadly, this high-temp weather respite can be a source of major water loss. Besides the amount of water initially needed to fill a pool, cement cracks and evaporation can lead to almost double the original amount of water being used. According to the National Leak Foundation of Mesa, 30% of pools have leaks in them, many of which go unnoticed due to an automatic refilling mechanism. In addition, evaporation is a major problem in arid environments (like the Southwest). During the hottest summer days in the driest climates, a 400 square foot surface area pool can lose over 2,500 gallons of water in one month! The fix: The best plan is to forgo the private pool in favor of a public one at a park or private club. If you do want to keep your backyard pool, make sure to check carefully for leaks in your liner and cracks underwater. In addition, always put a cover on when it's not being used, even (especially!) in the summer.
The issue: Although Las Vegas may be known as a hub of vice, water waste is a lesser known evil. In fact, just living in the Nevada city means you are using way more water than the average consumer. This isn't personal: due to the hot and arid climate, evaporation is a major concern in Southwestern cities. Vegas in particular is home to a number of golf courses and luxury resorts, where a large quantity of water is needed to keep the grounds green and tidy. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, water laws in Nevada include a restriction in lawn size, and assigned-day watering. The fix: Embrace the desert flora. Instead of working tirelessly for thirsty-looking front yard grass, Nevadans can landscape around their homes with cacti and other desert shrubbery. If giving up green is not the way you want to go, astro-turf or other grass substitutes are easy, affordable, and low maintenance options. According to the EPA, replacing grass with artificial turf will save you 2/3 of regular lawn water use. In addition, indoor potted plants and herbs can add to kitchen ambiance. Flickr image courtesy of stevendepolo
The issue: Meat production is a controversial industry, and not only because of its animal treatment record. According to a UNESCO Institute for Water Education Study conducted between 1996-2005, "29% of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products." One third of that is related to cattle production, according to the study. "The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value," the study states. The fix: Consider cutting down on your meat consumption (check out our "Meatless Monday" page!). According to the aforementioned UNESCO study, "managing the demand for animal products by promoting a dietary shift away from a meat-rich diet will be an inevitable component in the environmental policy of government."
The issue: In an effort to go as enviro-friendly as possible, you have made the switch in your refueling routine to a corn ethanol blend called E85 instead of pure gasoline in your car. Sure, it has some drawbacks (as you can see here) but it's better in many ways than regular gas... right? Unfortunately, corn ethanol's high water consumption makes it a controversial energy alternative. According to the National Academies Press, one gallon of corn ethanol requires four to seven gallons of water for production, while petroleum refinement requires about only 1.5 gallons of water for one gallon of gasoline. E85 also provides "about 30 percent less fuel economy" than ordinary gasoline, according to Mother Earth News. The fix: If you can afford it, invest in a hybrid. According to this UNESCO study, bio-electricity is the most water-efficient form of transport. But is the Chevy Volt not exactly in your price range? Many people still think that the pros of biofuels outweigh the cons, especially if you use your car in moderation. Try to limit your driving time by walking, carpooling, or taking public transportation.
The issue: Opening up the toilet lid and seeing a tank full of unflushed pee isn't pleasant. Not flushing, however, is a minor offense in contrast to actually doing it. According to Networx, it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush a mere 10 ounces of urine, rendering perfectly good water undrinkable. Since the average person pees six times per day, you are using about 2,774 gallons of water every year. The fix: Unless you poop, don't flush as frequently. Flickr image courtesy of Sustainable sanitation
The issue: In 2008, a scandal erupted around Starbucks' water use. After a customer spotted a running faucet, she asked the barista why it was left on. "That's just what we are supposed to do," she replied. Starbucks' "dipping wells," as these streams of water were called, wasted 6 million gallons of water per day. While they have since drastically decreased their water use by 21.6%, it still means the company uses about 4,704,000 gallons of water per day. The fix: The Sierra Club says that coffee production has a much lower water-footprint than tea, so no need to forgo your joe altogether. Instead, the Daily Green suggests brewing your own java, and of that only the amount you think you'll drink. In addition, buying local coffee saves on water lost during transport, according to TapIt.com. Extra points for using a filterless (and non-electric) French press, reusable travel mug, and coffee in recyclable containers or jars! Flickr image courtesy of bfishadow
The issue: When shopping for fruits and veggies at the grocery store versus the local farmers market, many people can only see two differences: the price and the convenience of a grocery store. However, farming uses up a significant amount of available fresh water. According to Wired Magazine, farmers are responsible for 70% of the world's water consumption, and most of it is not going to good use. Wasteful irrigation systems, overly-dry land that needs an abundance of water, and a lack of efficiency are at the root (pun intended) of the problem. The fix: Go local or go home. Some smaller farms are trying new, water sustainable methods to grow their crops. Look up your local farms here, and contact them to see if they utilize these water sustainable technologies for farmers mentioned in the New York Times. And, of course, home-grown produce is not only water-friendly, but can be cheaper and much, much tastier!
The issue: Contrary to the conservationist's assumption, a dishwasher can actually be more water and energy efficient than washing dishes by hand, says Treehugger.com. However, this is only true when the dishwasher is run once it is full. Many people, especially those who live alone or with one another person, do not think twice about running a half full, or even a quarter full, dishwasher; it is simply one of those daily chores everyone does. But for a non-Energy Saver dishwasher, which according to the Energy Saver website uses about 6-7 gallons per load, those gallons add up when you are only washing for one. The fix: Only run the dishwasher once you have enough dishes to fill it. If leaving dirty dishes unwashed makes you feel icky, use a damp cloth to wipe off plates before leaving them in the washer.
The issue: Who knew that the structure of your washing machine says so much about your water footprint? According to Networx, front-loading washing machines are often more energy and water efficient than top loading machines. Although the front loading machines still use 20 gallons of water per cycle, National Geographic claims that top-loaders use twice that amount! The fix: Get yourself a front loading washer.
Water is one of the fundamental requirements of life but as the population increases, it is becoming harder to use. This special from Green TV looks at how the sourcing of water is becoming a political problem and how the fight for life is becoming literal.
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