North Americans have hit a new record, and it’s certainly not something that elicits pride.
We buy—and discard—five times more clothing than we did twenty-five years ago, according to Elizabeth Clines’ book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
All this excess fashion comes with an environmental cost we can’t see as we walk through beautifully-designed malls and status shops like Guess.
But Value Village, one of the most popular secondhand stores, reports that each year, 12 million tons of textiles go into landfills—ninety-five percent of which could be reused or recycled.
The crazy part is that we are recycling. We’re actually donating clothes at such a rate that secondhand centers can’t match supply and demand.
While textile production as a whole takes a toll of our planet, research has put special focus on the impact of denim.
“The river had a large streak of indigo blue…”
David McIlvride, director of RiverBlue, an online documentary detailing the environmental devastation of denim, says in an interview with Ecoholic author Adria Vasil, that denim production is so toxic, you can see it from space:
“One day I came across a Google [satellite] map of a river that flowed into a bay that supplies water to millions in Hong Kong. The river had a large streak of indigo blue you could see from outer space. The pollution was coming from an area that billed itself as the ‘blue jeans capital of the world.'”
The place is Xintang.
McIlvride tells Vasil his team spoke with campaigners from Greenpeace who were taking water and sediment samples from that indigo blue river.
Greenpeace found heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper in the rivers.
These metals are systemic toxicants known to induce adverse health effects in humans, including cardiovascular diseases, developmental abnormalities, neurologic and neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, hematologic and immunologic disorders, and various types of cancer, reports a study published in the US National Library of Medicine.
Other studies also suggest heavy metals in water can be toxic, but many are quick to remind us toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, specific chemical and personal factors like age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals.
For me, this is all headache-inducing and I’m not sure where to start. I mean, we use toxic dyes and chemicals to create these pieces of mostly uncomfortable pants that completely devastate global waterways—killing aquatic life and surrounding vegetation, and poisoning our communities—and then we toss on them in the closet to sit or buy excess pairs and…
There are other options. I’m not saying you need to give up denim or shopping altogether, but it’s certainly time to assess our sources and if we really need “new” jeans.
Tips for reducing the ecological impact of denim:
Always shop secondhand before buying brand new.
If secondhand isn’t an option, you can check your budget for alternative brands like Triarchy (Canadian-owned, skinny jeans only, retail around $189). Considering conventional jeans can run just as high as this price tag, it’s pretty comparable when buying new.
Triarchy boasts that their cotton/eucalyptus tree blend is made with 100% renewable energy and uses 85% less water than conventional cotton to grow and process.
Need jeans for under a hundred bucks?
I get it. I could never bring myself to pay much more than that either. Luckily, there’s a highly-esteemed brand named Everlane that’s committed to conserving water and keeping prices (somewhat) affordable. They also have
You can’t recycle jeans on your curbside, but you can still prevent it from ending up in a landfill.
The best option is sending your jeans back to a store or recycling company for proper processing.
In Canada, you can take old jeans to any Mavi store and actually get a 10% discount for your donation.
If you’d rather toss it in the mail, no worries, simply ship it to Blue Jeans Go Green. You pay
The most important thing, though, is that we think deeply about the purchases we make and their impact on the planet and our health. Do we really need something new or are there alternative options?
Most of the time, you’ll be surprised to find alternative options abound—we just need to find them and spread the word.