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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shop Till You Drop and still Be Kind to our Earth


Everything man does seems to effect the earth, yet nature has an amazing knack for healing and adapting to the challenge of survival.  


Earth Day is coming up and with it comes renewed awareness of how we can make change and a difference. There will the be usual planting of trees and community activities but how about we look closely at our own lives and see where we can make a difference every day of the year.


 We live in a society of consumerism where if you have the means to purchase something you are free to do just that. We love to shop. It's a day out, it's fun, and we all like the thrill of a bargain and bringing home something new. But that is the word we're going to focus on with this post. What is the meaning of "new"? Does it have to be newly made from raw materials? Or can it just be new to you?


Thank goodness the times have changed with the attitude towards second hand or thrift shopping. My grandparents' generation pulled themselves out of the depression era with a proud determination in capitalism. If a man or woman worked hard and was blessed to be financially comfortable than to buy new was a perk without having to settle for used ever again.There used to be a sense of embarrassment if seen by someone you know while shopping in a thrift shop. To do so meant you were struggling financially or were considered low class.

Factory production and a market that demanded the items meant jobs, therefore to buy new was supporting the continued need for employment.  That philosophy was wonderful until companies sought out the cheapest ways to meet the demand. Companies may seek to move overseas in order to employ cheaper labor and acquire cheaper materials. What has resulted is modern day slavery and a major strain on our environment.


The fashion industry rolls out the latest trends at an unbelievable rate to keep up with seasonal sales. They can do that by finding the cheapest labor markets to put out in bulk and keep prices low. Neither concern for the worker nor the source of the materials is often a main priority for those at the top of the corporate ladder. 


Poor, unsafe working conditions, low wages, and few benefits keep these working people in unhealthy, high risk situations with little hope to better the future for their families.


We usually don't question just how fabric ends up with the brightest array of colors and the whitest whites. These are the result of bleaches, acid washes and chemical dyes which contain heavy metals known to be carcinogenic. Because being environmentally responsible isn't always required and being it costs money, textile industries may skirt around proper clean-up and disposal. Waste may be just dumped into local waterways or buried under the ground. Water becomes polluted from not only the waterways but chemical seepage over time should these buried barrels leak into the ground water.


Since clothing is often cheaply made, it's life span is not nearly as long as the clothes we remember as hand-me-downs. The clothing industry doesn't want you to save your clothes for the future, they want families to buy new. Combine that with the mentality that people get bored with what they have, and we have a major concern with the amount of added trash to the landfills. People too often have the attitude that if they are going to pay for trash pick-up then they are going to get their money's worth and fill those cans. Please take the time to support services and businesses dependent on donations.


Most of our clothing is made from cotton. Since the 1960's the world has doubled its production of cotton. Synthetics are huge too, but cotton is still the main demand. To fill that demand we now have Monsanto providing farmers all over the world with genetically modified seeds. We know GMO crops affect the soil, the water, the air, yet feel powerless to stop it. The amount of pesticides needed to keep these crops free of pests is a real danger to not only the environment but to every living organism. People working the fields without protection are put at real risk for illness.


Buying organic cotton clothes may seem like the answer. It is a better choice, but though organic cotton reduces pesticide use, the processing and dyeing require more water and energy than conventional cotton. We're hearing a lot about bamboo since it is easily renewable. But again, after harvest the process to create a soft fiber requires it be spun with harsh chemicals.


So we may not be able to change things overnight but we can decide how we as individuals do our shopping. At least when you buy used, already purchased clothes (and anything else for your household), you aren't contributing to the initial source of the problem.

Thank goodness our children are now in a society supporting sustainability and the three R's: reuse, recycle, renew! To shop second hand is a way of boycotting the fashion industry with its wasteful packaging, sweat shop labor, and ridiculous price tags. Yard sales, on-line barter sites, flea markets, community swap days and thrift shops can be a gold mine for those seeking to save money, find great deals, discover unique treasures and antiques. Great for those who love to shop because they get bored with what they already have. They can rotate their clothes by donating them back into circulation for someone else, come home with new finds, and not feel guilty since they never spent full price on the originals.


Now to how we care for all these great finds. Be conscious with how much you use your washing machine. They say the average household washes 400 loads of laundry a year. That is a lot of water. Before wearing an item only once and tossing it into the hamper, consider if it is "dirty" enough to need a washing yet. Depending on what our daily activities are we may not have to wash so often. Be sure the loads are full before using the energy it takes to complete a cycle. Try to reserve hot water only for whites and either make your own laundry soap or buy phosphate-free detergent.

Clothes made from synthetic materials such as polyester contribute to the pollution of our oceans. Every time a piece of polyester clothing is washed it releases microfibers. Considering the vast amount of laundry in the world, that is a lot of plastic pollution entering our waterways. Cutting down on the frequency in which we wash our clothes can help.

Finally, if you are allowed and have the space, hang your clothes outside to air dry. This is another area where I am so glad times are changing. There are those with the attitude that to see someone's delicates flapping in the wind labels them as low classed. Though some housing units have rules against clothes lines, if it is permitted, give it a try and enjoy the wonderful fresh scent of clothes dried in the sun.  

Think reuse, recycle, upcycle, renew, whatever it takes to sort out the treasures from the trash! 


 The source for this post


An alternative to buying used is to buy new but shop at your local retailers. You'll not only be supporting small business owners but you can find out from where the items originate. 

The beauty of shopping online is the availability of finding sources for clothing made from natural fibers.


Or you can buy online from sites such as ETSY or ZIBBET where the items are homemade, handmade with all the love and attention that goes into detail, one product at a time