Archive for the ‘Clothes’ Category


Do you know what the biggest environmental impact of your clothes is?

It’s not growing the fabric. Although as I’ve previously mentioned, normal cotton is, environmentally speaking, pretty bad.

It’s not manufacturing it. It’s not even transporting it from where it’s made (even if it was a very long way away).

It’s washing and drying it.

In a recent Marks and Spencer’s study, they looked at an average pair of men’s cotton briefs. They reckoned that, on average, they had a two year life and were washed 52 times a year at 60 degrees. Half of the time, they were tumble dried.

Growing the cotton accounted for 2.6% of the pant’s carbon footprint. The manufacture of the product accounted for another 12.6%. Transporting and selling the pants was another 4%.

Which leaves nearly 81%.

This is down to guy who bought and wore them.

A bit, around 3%, was created transporting it back from the shops. The rest of the carbon footprint was created by washing and drying them. The biggest chunk being tumble drying.

The average UK household uses their washing machine 274 times a year. That’s three days in every four. Using a washing machine accounts for 10% of the energy the average person uses. And 12% of the water we use, is in our washing machine.

The majority of the energy a washing machine uses – over 90% – is used to heat the water. So washing clothes at lower temperatures makes a really big difference. Reducing the heat from 60 degrees to 30 saves about half of the energy. And a few quid too.

Having a decent, reasonably new washing machine helps too. An A+ rated model uses two thirds of the energy a standard machine uses. And a new machine generally only uses half the water that a 10-year-old machine would. Since over 90% of a washing machine’s carbon footprint comes from its use, rather than it’s manufacture and disposal, buying a new, more efficient model might actually be more environmentally friendly.

On the plus side, a modern washing machine is pretty efficient with water and so washing clothes by hand generally uses more water. So you can relax and not feel guilty about not using a mangle.

Make sure you do full loads though. Doing a 3.5kg wash rather than a 3kg wash is apparently about 14% more efficient. Don’t go washing those pants on their own.

Tumble drying is really bad. A tumble dryer can use over 2kw of power for an average cycle. That’s seven times as much as a 30 degree wash. Or the same as three and a half 60 degree washes.

Ironing is also pretty power hungry, using more than ten times as much as a 100 watt light bulb. Where possible, it should be avoided, which comes as a relief to me but will probably disappoint my mother.

And then there’s how often we wash stuff.

I reckon most of us wash clothes more regularly than is strictly necessary. I’m not suggesting that we should all go feral and go in to work a bit wiffy. But I reckon that generally I could probably get two wears out of a shirt rather than one before I wash it. Certainly during winter. And if I did that, I’ve nearly halved my shirt’s carbon footprint. Result.

So then.

Try and wash your clothes less.

Within reason obviously.

Wash them at 40 degrees or, even better, 30 if your machine will do it. If you’ve got a really old knackered machine, maybe think about getting a new one. Use a washing line or drying rack instead of tumbling unless you really need to. We don’t own one and live in a tiny flat, so frankly, I don’t think you really do.

And, if you can get away with it, don’t iron it.

Sorry mum.

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specialists in socksOver the past few months I’ve been trying to buy my clothes in a more eco-conscious way.

There’s obviously a lot of factors to consider here but a big one is what it’s made of. So here’s what I’ve found out.

If it’s cotton, buy organic cotton

Cotton production accounts for over 20% of the world’s insecticide use and over 10% of pesticides. Many of them are classified ‘extremely hazardous’ by the World Health Organisation. Some were even developed as toxic nerve agents during the second world war. Nasty stuff.

It’s estimated that over 20,000 people in developing countries die from poisoning by agricultural pesticides every year. A further 3 million suffer from respiratory problems. Some of which is caused while farming cotton for our clothes. I’m not sure I want that on my conscience. And frankly I’m not sure I like the thought of putting material containing those kind of nasties close to my skin on a daily basis either.

Cotton also consumes a gigantic amount of water. Around 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of raw cotton. If you drink an average amount of water, it would take you about 27 years to drink that. That’s a hell of a lot of water.

Organic cotton generally uses less water because it is a rotation crop. Rotating crops mean the soil maintains its nutrients and hold its water better. Pesticides use reduces soil fertility and therefore regular cotton crops require even more irrigation.

Organic cotton is softer because the fibres are not broken down by the chemicals used in the farming process. Having bought a couple of organic cotton shirts recently, I can report back that it is far more comfortable than normal cotton. Worth a couple of extra quid in itself.

Hemp and bamboo are good alternatives

Hemp feels a bit like linen. It uses considerably less water than cotton to grow and, unlike cotton, can be grown in the UK which means less CO2 is created transporting it from sunnier climbs. It’s also four-times stronger than cotton, so doesn’t weaken when you wash it. It can also be mixed with cotton if you like.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet – 18 metres of bamboo only takes two months to grow. And it can grow anywhere. It doesn’t need insecticides or pesticides. And the only water it needs is rain-fall. So it’s very sustainable. It also grows a lot of roots, which helps stop soil erosion. Despite the fact it is a wood, clothes made of bamboo feel a bit like silk or cashmere. It feels cooler next to your skin than cotton and is warmer in cold weather.

Beyond second-hand

A number of places are now selling clothes made from recycled materials. Stuff like recycled polyester. Polyester isn’t biodegradable, so recycling it is far better than chucking it away. And there’s also the entertaining thought that your jacket used to be something else.

Some ideas of places to buy them

There seems to be an increasing number of clothing manufactures trading on eco values. Here are just three, picked only because I have bought stuff I like from them recently. I’d love to hear about more, if you have suggestions.


Howies is my new favourite shop. They only stock organic cotton, along with hemp, bamboo and recycled polyester. And they seem to have a very healthy approach to business. Their catalogues are well worth reading too, stuffed with loads of info to make you think. And they invest 10% of their profits in environmental and social projects. They’ve got a shop on Carnaby Street in London complete with a button outside so you can turn the lights on in the window at night for a short time before they go out again. They also have a very good website.


Nudie Jeans

Nudie Jeans use either pure organic cotton or a blend. They also have an eco approach to the dying process not using chemicals but using stuff like potato starch instead. You can tell they’re organic cotton just by the feel. They made in Italy and seem pretty good on working conditions for their employees. They come in various cuts and seem to be available in various shops in London and also online.


Curious Tales

I stumbled across this clothing designer when Googling the name of my blog. Their range of T-shirts feature a range of characters, each with their own curious tale, which they encourage you to complete. They are made from organic cotton and manufactured solely using renewable energy. The inks are also certified organic by the soil association. The label is even designed so that you can reuse it as a bookmark. I love the attention to detail. And they come posted with a hand written note from their creator Julie-Anne, wrapped in tissue paper stuck down with a fake ‘tache. It made me smile a lot.


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