Sustainable Clothing

Written by Lindsey Brand, ESLLC 2015-2016

I believe that encouraging people to live sustainably in their homes is a necessary pursuit. Easy, everyday choices can reduce a person’s environmental impact. One aspect of sustainable life that is often overlooked is clothing choices. Certain fabrics are significantly better for the environment than others. I will admit that I rarely think about the environmental impact of the fabrics that I buy and wear. I have now studied up on different fabrics, and will share this information so that we can all have the chance to incorporate more responsible practices into our lives.

Many common fabrics are detrimental to the environment both in their production and eventual degrading:

  • Nylon: Manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Non-biodegradable.
  • Polyester: Manufacture requires massive amounts of water, as well as chemicals that can potentially contaminate the natural environment. Non-biodegradable.
  • Rayon: Old-growth forests often cleared in order to plant trees such as water-hungry eucalyptus to provide wood pulp needed to make rayon. Wood pulp is treated with harmful chemicals.
  • Cotton: Requires huge amounts of pesticides to grow. Takes up agricultural land that could be used for food. Often require herbicides as well. Chemicals are trapped in cotton and release back into the environment over time.

Here are some sustainable alternatives:

  • Organic Cotton: Growing cotton organically solves almost all of the environmental problems associated with cotton.
  • Hemp: Highly productive and pest tolerant crop, greatly reducing need to use chemicals in growth.
  • Bamboo: Uses very little pesticide and chemical fertilizer in growth.
  • Linen: Needs very little chemical fertilizer, and fewer pesticides than other materials.
  • Recycled polyester: Polyester can be created from recycles plastic or old clothing items.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the environmental effects of all fabrics. I also chose to only include fabrics that are harmful for environmental reasons, rather than humane reasons. However, I do hope that looking at the processes behind certain fabrics does serve as a jump off point for making more sustainable choices in the future.



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