From small things like changing your light bulbs to big things like buying a hybrid car, you want to do what you can to help protect the environment. But if you're not sure how your wardrobe can help the planet, then this buying guide is for you. Even making one or two small changes can make a difference. This guide will give you some green living ideas, like what to look for when you buy eco-friendly clothing, how to take care of all your clothing in a greener way, and what to do with clothes when you're done with them.
The first step in greening up your wardrobe is to think about what your clothes are made of. You've probably heard about hemp clothing or bamboo clothing, but there are other factors you can consider. You can reduce your carbon footprint by shopping for clothes which have some of the following features.
Planet-friendly fibers: Like choosing between paper and plastic, you may second-guess yourself when you have to choose between clothing made of natural fibers and those made of synthetic fibers. Most man-made fibers require a lot of energy to be produced, and many are made out of petroleum, which releases dangerous matter into the air during production. However, crops for natural fibers -- like conventionally grown cotton -- are some of the largest users of water and pesticides. What choices do you have when you're going green? Here are a few.
Organic cotton is grown without pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. Not only does its production release fewer chemicals into the air, but organic clothing will release fewer chemicals as you wear it.
Bamboo and hemp require much less water and other resources to grow. Because these plants grow quickly, they are also considered a renewable resource. Both bamboo and hemp fibers can be made into fabrics with a variety of textures, from sheer and silky to warm and durable.
New man-made materials are improving their reputation. For example, some companies are making fleece out of recycled plastic bottles and shoes out of recycled rubber. Other companies are experimenting with fibers made from corn.
Natural dyes: Chemical dyes release toxins into the air during production and the clothes dyed with them can irritate sensitive skin. Home crafters have been experimenting with fabric dyes made of vegetable, coffee, and tea for many years, but clothing companies are just starting to use natural fabric dyes. Look for clothing made with "low impact dyes," but don't be surprised if you don't find too much available yet.
It takes energy to make your clothes and to ship them to you, but did you realize that your clothes still use energy once they belong to you? Experts have estimated that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the energy your clothes require over their lifetime is from machine washing and drying. You can "unplug your clothes" by following these tips.
Wash your clothes only when necessary. When you put on an outfit and only wear it around the house for a few hours, it probably doesn't need to be washed yet. Before you throw anything in the hamper, think about whether or not you could get another wear out of it. If you can, hang it back up in your closet.
Install energy-efficient appliances. Upgrade your washer and dryer to Energy Star models. You'll use less water and less power, and you'll save money on your power bill. Some local power companies will even give you a rebate check when you have Energy Star-rated appliances installed, so be sure to check with yours.
Air-dry your clothes when you can. Use even less power by air-drying your clothes outside on a clothesline. When the sun is out, this gives your clothes a fresh scent. If your clothes stiffen while hanging on the line, mix one capful of clear fabric softener with one cup of clean water in a spray bottle and shake to combine. Then spray the mixture on the clothes and shake them out.
Whether you've outgrown your clothes or you're just tired of wearing them, don't throw them in the trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 4 percent of the solid waste in U.S. landfills is made up of clothing and textiles; that's about 68 pounds of clothing being thrown away per person every year. The clothes then rot and release methane gas into the atmosphere. So, what can you do to help?
If your clothes are still in good condition: Sell them at a consignment shop or in a yard sale, or donate them to charity. When you donate clothing, you can write off the amount when you file your taxes, and you can feel good about dressing people who are less fortunate.
If your clothes are worn out: Think about ways you can recycle them. Old T-shirts make excellent dust cloths, and old jeans can be cut up to make a quilt. Many recycling centers have started accepting clothes to be recycled into other items, like paper, industrial cloths, and even fencing materials. If you can't find a local recycling center that takes clothes, then go ahead and donate the worn out items to a charity like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. They have connections to textile recyclers that you may not know about.