Article: Green Skeletons in Our Closets

by Loretta Wallace

What do our closets have to do with saving the planet you might ask? While at first glance what's in our clothes closets may seem to have a benign influence on our environment, a closer look reveals quite a different picture. Let's start with the ordinary wire hanger.

A famous line from the movie Mommy Dearest is "no wire hangers"! While Joan Crawford might have been justified in her distain of wire hangers for aesthetic reasons, our reckless disposal of them has become a major environmental issue. Steel is 100% recyclable yet most hangers get thrown away, leaving 3.5 billion hangers per year in landfills, weighing in at 195 million pounds, spanning 2.2 million miles if stretched out and wasting enough steel to make 60,000 new cars. Instead of tossing them, there are other options:

  • ask our dry cleaner if we can return the hangers for their reuse
  • donate them to thrift stores who always need hangers
  • find a recycling center that takes steel

All synthetic clothing (nylon, polyester, etc) is made from petroleum and most of us don't need to be educated on the political, social, economic and environmental impact of our use of and addiction to petroleum. Large amounts of crude oil are used in the manufacturing process of synthetic fibers, releasing deadly chemicals into the air, including hydrogen chlorine gas. Further adding insult to injury, these synthetic clothes, when discarded, will sit for hundreds of years in landfills. Cotton clothing, while constructed of a natural biodegradable material, has it's own downside with 50 million pounds of pesticides including cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin, all known cancer-causing chemicals being used each year to grow it. These pesticides run off into our waterways and cause genetic mutations and death to marine and animal life. So how can we lessen the environmental impact of the textiles we use?

  • Be gentle to the clothes we already own to make them last longer
  • Choose quality over quantity. A bargain blouse is not a bargain for the wallet or the environment if after 2 washings it falls apart and ends up in the trash due to inferior materials or workmanship
  • Buy from consignment and thrift shops
  • Opt for organic cotton and naturally grown plant based fabrics such as hemp, bamboo and linen or silk, wool or recycled materials
  • Donate usable clothing to charities or sell them at flea markets or consignment shops and give throw rugs, towels and blankets to animal shelters
  • Reuse tattered clothing for household cleaning, painting, car washing rags

Cashmere used to be a luxury fabric available only to the wealthy. Today, inexpensive cashmere is mass produced in China using huge numbers of goats that overgraze and devastate the pastures, rendering them dust bowls. Dust storms from the barren pastures blow through China causing air pollution and illness to the population while contributing to global climate change. We can help mitigate this situation by opting for the more expensive but sustainably produced cashmere. Once the demand for the cheaper cashmere has diminished, the producers will have no choice but to decrease production, it's a simple case of supply and demand. The alpaca, an animal that survives in many climates around the globe and has little impact on its environment is a good alternate source of cashmere. Look for cashmere made from alpaca instead of from goats raised in an unsustainable manner.

Athletic Shoes
How many pairs of old sneakers that are too gross to give to charity are piled on your closet floor? Sneakers that contain petroleum based PVC (polyvinylchloride) that would normally end up in a landfill? Nike will recycle any brand of athletic shoe through its Reuse-a-Shoe program Take your shoes to any Nike store, or mail them to the company's recycling center and Nike will process and recycle the footwear to make sports courts, running tracks and playgrounds. To date, over 24,123,411 pairs of athletic shoes
worldwide have been recycled through the program since 1990.

Moth Repellants
The two major ingredients in mothballs, naphthalene and p-dichlorobenzene used individually or in combination, are extremely toxic petroleum-based chemicals that can cause numerous short and long-term health effects, including cancer, blood, kidney, and liver problems and even death. Add to that the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of these poisons and its easy to see we need to try safer alternatives such as:

  • Store woolens in a cedar chest or cedar lined closet
  • Launder clothes before storing because moth larvae are attracted to perspiration, dandruff, hair, food and beverage stains
  • Store clothing in airtight chests or containers
  • Airing clothing occasionally in sunlight and wind will reduce larvae on fabrics
  • Avoid storing clothing in dark humid areas like attics
  • Store clothes with sachets of nontoxic herbs and woods such as cedar, cloves, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, sweet woodruff, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves
  • Pheromone traps are available for some species of moths. Place traps in closets and other areas where clothes are stored

So the next time you clean out or add to your closet, take a little extra time to make it green.

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