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Fibre files: recycled cotton

 

Let’s talk about cotton. Although cotton is a natural fibre, it’s very resource-heavy. Here’s a scary fact: It takes 10,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. This means that it takes about 2700 litres to produce one cotton tee shirt (The World Counts, 2018). Besides being thirsty, cotton crops are nutrient-hungry, requiring a lot of fertiliser. Most conventional cotton crops are also farmed with many pesticides and herbicides, which puts a strain on our waterways and is the current cause of many health problems for humans and animals alike who are breathing in pesticide-laden dust, drinking contaminated water and dealing with the consequences of acid rain (The World Counts, 2018).

 

Before you spiral into eco-anxiety, we have some good news: recycled cotton.

 

As part of our new spring/summer range, we have just received our first drop of recycled cotton sweaters and wraps. Untouched World use recycled cotton yarn that is completely transparent and traceable. Unlike the majority of companies that mix recycled cotton with virgin cotton to create a blend (my own research found a 50-65% recycled component is generally used), Untouched World has developed a method to create clothing from 100% pre-consumer recycled cotton. This cotton is made up of the pre-dyed scraps, rejects and trimmings from the textile industry (Textile Exchange, 2013).

 

 

The majority of water used in the production of cotton clothing is saved by using recycled cotton instead of virgin cotton. My searches came up with estimates between 70% and 98%, which is an impressive improvement which ever end of the spectrum you look at. Using recycled cotton also eliminates many other production phases and results in a significant reduction of energy, pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser consumption. If that wasn’t exciting enough, it also eliminates the waste disposal of cotton offcuts, many of which would have previously made their way to landfill.

 

There are environmental and ethical concerns with however we choose to clothe ourselves and there is no one right answer. It’s exciting to live in a time when we are concurrently aware of these concerns and developing the technology and regulations to solve some of the international problems facing the fashion industry. It’s going to take more than recycled cotton to solve the big problems but it’s an exciting step in the right direction.

 

 Reference List

 The World Counts. 2018. Environmental Issues With Cotton. [ONLINE]. Available at:

http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/cotton_environmental_impacts/environmental_issues_with_cotton [Accessed: 11 August 2018]

 

Textile Exchange. 2013. Recycled Cotton. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130610020056/http://textileexchange.org/node/958 [Accessed: 11 August 2018]

 

How to weed out the 'sustainable' from the 'fashion'

In a time where 'sustainable fashion' is being used as a marketing term to sell more clothes rather than an agent for positive change, actually weeding out the 'sustainable' from the mass of 'fashion' can get tricky.

Here's how to tell if a fashion brand is ethical and sustainable: 

1. Read the label

It’s important to know what it’s made from. We’ve dedicated an entire blog post to understanding what clothes are made from, so take a read if you’d like a refresher. 

The label should also tell you where your clothes were made. Be cautious of anything made far away. We stock clothes made ethically and sustainably in far flung places like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (yep, there are ethical clothing factories in Bangladesh now!) and Vietnam, but be aware that an item’s country of origin can often give you a good glimpse of the conditions of how it was made. The Richest came up with a list of the 7 worst countries for horrific sweatshop conditions in 2014. These include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia.

 

2. What is it rated?

There’s a growing number of organisations that can show you how ethical and sustainable a brand is depending on the rating system used. Note that a lot of smaller labels are not included in these reports.

Rank a Brand looks at the sustainability and ethics of major brands, Baptist World Aid releases a yearly report that assesses the ethics of companies, with a focus on human rights. Fashion Revolution is my favourite organisation to turn to for it’s focus on brand transparency, releasing a yearly index report that assesses the social and environmental information shared by fashion labels.

 

3. Check the company's Corporate Social Responibility policies

If it’s a small label, it probably won’t have a CSR policy, but any label committed to sustainable fashion will want to let you know about it. The label’s ‘about page’ is a good place to start. If the company doesn’t tell you straight up, chances are they don’t have much to say, which is a red flag.

If you’ve got the time, reach out with a quick email asking them about their dedication to ethical business and sustainability. I’ve done this before and have been met with a stock standard “we aim to become an ethical company in the future” and have also been completely ignored, but you might have more luck and find out that this company is actually  a lot more ethical than they let on.

 

4. Beware of cause marketing 

Perhaps I’m just showing my cynicism, but sometimes a company will donate to a charity or get behind a cause in an attempt to appear caring. This is cause marketing at it’s core. Helping not-for-profits is excellent, but its not ‘proof’ that the brand is ethical or sustainable. I can think of a certain label that is a cruelty free advocate, yet when it comes to human rights, has done little to no work on improving anything for it’s factory workers or addressing it’s environmental responsibility. If a fashion label donates to a not for profit but it’s products are being made by sweatshop labour, then maybe their charity work is done for good publicity and tax benefits than actually giving a damn? Or am I just being cynical again?

Not every company that donates to charity is hiding something or trying to make up for its other unethical faults and there are many ethical companies that also support not-for-profits, but charity work is not evidence enough that the company is wholly good.

I'm glad that we live in a time where caring is cool. What isn't cool is when fashion labels pretend to care to gain credibility rather than actually doing the work, further propagating a system of repression for their garment workers and a strain on the environment for, well, everyone. I know it can take a lot more effort to discover the brands doing the right thing, but it's worth it to support companies that reflect your values, taking the power away from companies that exploit and giving it back to those that enrich.

My last week of Plastic Free July

The home stretch! The last week (and a bit) hasn't been without it's difficulties but I'm glad stuck it out. An unplanned plastic item snuck it's way into my life but all in all, I'd call the home run a success.

 

Day 22

Another sick day, which meant that I couldn’t get to the farmer’s market for milk. Nooooo! My partner was a trooper and opted to decrease his coffee intake for the week, forgoing his usual second coffee at home and just going to the cafe once a day. 

 

Day 23

My sweet mum left us with some leftovers, which gave me another day to rest before getting groceries. 

 

Day 24

I picked up the groceries from Salamanca Fresh, plus some cardboard-packaged pasta from Coles because life’s too short not to eat pasta. I’d love to be one of those wonderfully resourceful zero-wasters who makes their own pasta, but I’m afraid I’m not there just yet, although I did make my own romesco sauce this week so there’s still hope.  

 

 

Day 25, 26 and 27

I had a few no spend, plastic-free days.

 

Day 28

Another plastic day 😢. I was forced to introduce a new plastic debit card into my life thanks to a Guatemalan data hacker (which sounds far more exciting than discovering that someone’s using my card number to buy 85 quetzal worth of “educational supplies”), but that’s another story.

 

Day 29

A friend picked up some milk for me from Farm Gate Market, which was so nice! I treated myself to a hot drink and snacks at Hamlet. I love it there and get a kick out of supporting such a whole-hearted, community minded place that does it's part to reduce waste and plastic consumption. 

 

Day 30

I did my weekly grocery run at Salamanca Fresh.

 

 

 

Day 31

I went a bit bonkers at Eumarrah and came back with bulk food in, well, bulk. This week I filled up some unused cotton dust bags from home which happen to work a treat as bulk food bags. Score! 

 

 

Highlights and Musings  

Over the past 31 days I’ve managed to stay almost plastic free, introducing a second hand rain coat, a debit card and a 2L carton of milk into my life (although I didn’t buy this one, it did appear in the house so I’m only taking partial credit). I'm proud of my efforts and hope that I can keep this momentum going.

Moving forward, I will try to be as mindful as possible about the plastic I introduce into my life, but I understand that this is not enough. To see real change, we need to change the system. Government must continue to implement legislation and regulation. I also believe that industry must accept responsibility for plastic waste and pollution. There is some really exciting plastic free alternatives and plastic reduction methods being theorised, tested and produced at the moment, but for the sake of our future, we need to be getting the best scientific minds excited about this problem. 

 

One last little call to action before I get off my plastic-free throne:

Be the squeaky wheel

In the past I've shied away from being 'that' annoying enviro-warrior person, but in the spirit of Plastic Free July, I have decided to take action. I also run a small business and rely on a few key online suppliers for things that simply don't exist in Tasmania, so this week I have contacted an online supplier to voice my concern and to consider plastic free or reduced-plastic options when packaging their goods. I haven't heard back yet, but hopefully if more people make some noise, we'll see results.

 

My third week of Plastic Free July 2018

Here's how I've fared over the past week sans plastic:

Day 15

I went to Farm Gate Market and stocked up veggies, apples, bread and bought some Elgaar milk and yoghurt. 

Day 16

Today I challenged myself to get the rest of my ingredients from the supermarket. Coles has a self serve bulk food section, but supplies it with plastic zip lock bags (why?), so I just filled up my reusable onya bags instead. Truth be told they weren’t as delicious as the produce from Eumurrah but given my busy week, it saved me so much time and effort to get the rest of the groceries on foot on my walk home rather than driving in to the city during business hours. Below is a picture of my weekly haul, minus the Farmer's market veggies I'd already cooked with.

 

 

Other things I’ve managed to get from the supermarket sans plastic include canned goods, pasta, bi carb, pickles, vinegars, condiments, oils, flour, fruit and vegetables. 

 

Day 17

I broke the rules today. I bought a rain jacket from Recycle Boutique, which (you guessed it) is made from plastic. I justified this purchase to myself because I need one and I’ve been looking for a raincoat for months. From the dorky peaked cap to it's impressive pack-down size, it's exactly what I’ve been looking for and being second hand, no new plastic is coming into the world. I know it’s a bit naughty but at the moment I can’t find a plastic free alternative that fits all of my requirements.

 

Day 18

I resisted the 1/2 price dark chocolate tim tams (such a guilty pleasure) and bought a block of chocolate wrapped in al foil and paper instead. It was delicious and by the time I got home I'd forgotten all about the tim tams, it was only when I was prompted to blog about it that I remembered again. Is this the start of a change of habit?

 

Day 19, 20 and 21

No new purchases and no new plastic in my life. Fingers crossed I can keep this up for the rest of the month.

 

 

Week 3 highlights and musings

I’ve been very anti plastic in these posts, but there are many benefits that have come from the creation of plastic. Plastics have helped advance medical sciences and play an important role in our modern health care system. Not that I think there isn’t room for hospitals and medical specialists to move towards reducing plastic usage and waste, but from specialised medical equipment to keeping a sterile environment, plastic plays a part. Plastic has become a very handy material for the construction of camping (hello perfect rain coat!) and safety gear, aeroplanes and cars. Plastic has also made the tech revolution possible, for which I am very grateful.

Maybe one day humanity will develop a plastic free alternative that is kinder to the environment but for now, I don’t think we’ll be able to completely eliminate plastic usage in the near future. The problem is that the majority of plastics made today are for packaging (Geyer, Jambeck and Lavender Law, 2017), which doesn't seem right to me. Don't you think plastic packaging (for the most part) could be avoided with some simple swaps and a bit of a mindset change? What do you think? 

 

 

Reference

Geyer, R., Jambeck J. R., Lavender Law, K. (2017).  Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, [online] Volume 3(7), e 1700782. Available at: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full

My second week of Plastic Free July 2018

This week started pretty shaky, ended with lots of delicious food and contained a bit of plastic-themed disappointment.

Day 8

Oh how much difference a day makes! Instead of going to the farmer’s market, I stayed in bed until 3pm, too sick and tired to do anything else. This really threw me out of my weekly routine.

 

Day 9

On the back foot with absolutely no vegetable matter left in the house, I got some (paper bagged, no plastic fish soy sauce) sushi for lunch in town when I was at work, feeling pretty smug about bringing a little jar of tamari with me from home.

Home from work, I noticed there was a plastic bottle of milk in the fridge 🤷🏻‍♀️. My partner relies on milk being in the fridge (still can’t convert him to home made almond milk) like I rely on water coming out of the tap, so I couldn’t get too cranky, it was a tough weekend for both of us. 

I got some groceries from Salamanca Fresh in the evening and managed to get away without any plastic. Success!

 

Day 10

 A no spend, no plastic day.

 

Day 11

I snuck away to Eumarrah and stocked up on nuts, oats and cocoa powder. I use my Onya produce bags there, but rely on their paper bags for flours, spices and powders. I’ve been trying to recycle my accumulated stock of paper bags but have been thinking making some cloth bags to fill that purpose.

 

 

Day 12

Another no spend, no plastic day.

 

Day 13

I met some friends at Rektango but forgot to bring a reusable cup, which meant that I missed out on some hot gin punch. Oh well. We then went out for Indian food, which was great but as usual, I ordered way too much. I’d usually take leftovers home but PLASTIC, so I had to say goodbye to half an eggplant curry. Nooooo!

 

Day 14

 Another no spending, no plastic day.

 

Week 2 highlights and musings

This week reminded me that plastic-free isn’t easy, especially when you’re sick or rely on a limited window of time to get plastic free supplies. As demand for plastic-free alternatives increases, hopefully things like milk in glass makes it’s way back to grocers soon.

I found it interesting to see how my own perception of waste is changing. A few years ago I was accumulating plastic bags to ‘reuse’, now I’m doing the same with paper bags and am starting to rethink how I can rely less on this resource. 

Also, I think I need some guidance on this one: is it stingy to bring a reusable container to a restaurant for the sole purpose of collecting leftovers? It somehow feels cheap even though I would have “doggy-bagged” my curry. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’m curious!

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