Monday, March 26, 2012

The environmental cost of fast fashion

The Wizard of Felt up-cycles woolen sweaters into shrugs, re-sweaters, scarves, skirts, throws and more.
Do you need a thneed?
In his book The Lorax Dr. Seuss may have been the first to write about the social cost of what’s known as “fast fashion”, clothing that is produced quickly, cheaply and consumed like fast food by shoppers keen to wear the latest styles, who then toss them aside when the next trend comes along. Cheap, stylish clothes are great for consumers but not so great for the environment or for the people stuck in the factories producing them.

According to a study out of Cambridge University (UK), consumers bought one third more clothes in 2006 compared to 2002. And the rate of clothing consumption continues to rise as companies perfect their supply chain management, getting more clothes from design to stores faster than ever before, and more cheaply. As a result, even though we’re buying more overall, we’re spending a lot less of our disposable income on clothing and therein lies the problem -- shoppers can’t resist a good deal.
This is how our “good deal” stacks up: Mass produced clothing comes from sweatshop-like factories with questionable employee practices and a lack of environmental oversight. It’s then shipped halfway across the world, bought, worn for a bit and often tossed.
According to the U.K.-based Ethical Fashion Forum, consumers in Britain send more than 60 pounds of clothing and textiles to the landfill each year. What happened to mending clothes to extend their life and donating used clothes to charity?
In her book “To Die For. Is fashion wearing out the world?” author Lucy Siegle asks the same question and chronicles how we moved from buying a few pieces of high quality clothing each season to practically swapping out entire wardrobes from year to year.  Seigle investigated the ethical and human rights issues associated with off-shore clothing factories, and draws attention to the environmental impact of creating textiles. (Among the stats: about twenty-five percent of all pesticides used globally are used to grow conventional cotton, and it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce enough cotton fabric to make a t-shirt.)
It might be easy to blame the major corporations for creating fast fashion and the disposable culture of value-end clothing, but consumers are just as culpable since we’re doing the buying.
The power to change it all rests in our wallets.  If you like clothes but want to lessen the environmental and ethical impact of your fashion habit visit: and take the pledge to practice conscious consumption. Here’s their guideline for change:
Learn more about where your clothing comes from.
Buy quality rather than quantity.
Support handmade, local, sustainable or second-hand clothing.
Take good care of your clothing so it lasts longer.
And when clothing is no longer used, donate it to charity. The Canadian Diabetes Association operates the Clothesline, a service where they pick up used clothing and housewares. You can also drop it off at Value Village. Romero House and The Salvation Army also accept used clothing donations.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Greening your life one step at a time

The Seventh Generation blog has a great approach to helping consumers live greener, healthier lives. In a recent blog post they have categorized green living tips by effort required, making it easy for people to pace themselves if they're feeling overwhelmed. "Light Green" initiatives are the easiest, a good place to start. The tips progress to "Medium Green" then along to "Dark Green" for the most involved or impactful.

While what initiative goes with what shade of green is debatable, recognizing that not all green living efforts are created equal and that we should all set the dark green list as our ultimate goal make this approach practical and useful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Plastic and food - safe handling tips

There are many alternatives to plastic food storage containers.
The other day I went through the cupboards and got rid of almost every plastic food storage container we owned. Even though we’ve been transitioning to glass over the past couple of years somehow we kept accumulating plastic containers. And we were using them because they were there. I finally got fed up and tossed them in the recycling bag after reading another article about what plastic is doing to the environment and our health.

The article that sent me over the edge was from the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization that studies plastic pollution in the oceans. According to the Institute, discarded plastics that make their way into the oceans have been accumulating in “islands” of plastic that are hundreds of miles across. They’re like floating landfills. Aside from the obvious danger they pose to aquatic life, the Institute reminds us that plastics aren’t great for us either and contain all sorts of chemicals, some which are known human toxins and hundreds that haven’t been tested yet.
200 billion pounds of plastics are produced each year and according to Green Peace estimates, 10 per cent of it makes its way into the oceans. Only about 5% of plastics produced are recycled and about 50% ends up in landfills.
Ridding your life of plastic is a tall order. A lot of food is packaged in plastic, people still cart their groceries from the store in plastic, kid’s toys are made of plastic, household products are packaged in plastic. The stuff is everywhere. But even if you can’t banish it entirely you can reduce the amount of plastic in your life, and learn to use plastic safely.
Avoid soft vinyl products (like shower curtains and inflatable toys). They contain phthalates, a chemical softener that has been linked to lower brain function in children, among other things.
Only plastics labeled one, two and five (inside the recycling symbol) are considered food safe. Food should not be stored in unlabeled plastic containers or those stamped with the number seven (#7 plastic contains bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor.) Not that the food-safe plastics are entirely off the hook. You still need to use them safely.
Never heat food in a plastic container or put warm or hot food in plastic. Heat intensifies the leaching of chemicals into food. By the way, “microwave safe” is an unregulated term and only implies that the plastic shouldn’t melt in the microwave. It doesn’t mean that the chemicals used to make the plastic won’t leach into your food when heated. Ditto for plastic wrap, and look for brands that are PVC-free, or avoid plastic wrap altogether.
Never put plastic in the dishwasher since heat causes the plastic to break down.
Most canned food tins are lined with number seven plastic so try to reduce the amount of canned food you eat.
And finally, swap your plastic electric kettle for a stainless steel kettle and enjoy a worry-free cup of tea.