My Jeans Are Very Thirsty!

I like fashion, style, clothes and shopping. These are not environmentally-friendly inclinations, so I’ve made a concerted effort to shop for “new” vintage clothes and to donate my “tired” items to charities so they can live on. Plus, I only buy a new item of clothing once every few months! Good enough, right?

Wrong! The April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine is all about water; how much we use and how little we have. Imagine my surprise when I opened the fold-out map on hidden uses of water, and discovered that producing one pair – one single pair – of jeans requires 2,900 gallons of water. That’s roughly a month’s total use of water for an average American. A t-shirt uses 766 gallons, an entire week’s worth. Imagine how many years and years worth of fresh, clean water are sitting in our closets! Meanwhile, at least 36 states are anticipating some type of water shortage by 2013.

Further investigation reveals that 5% of our landfills are comprised of clothing, which translates to about 10 pounds of tossed out textiles per American. I once climbed up a landfill and was horrified to realize that under my feet were cereal boxes, sneakers, books, pens, watches, toys, jeans, and t-shirts – not the icky sludge you imagine when hearing the word ‘landfill’.

We never get back the rivers of water we use to make our clothes. Which makes it that much more important to keep them out of our landfills for all of their useful lives.

Here are some suggestions to be a more sustainable fashionista:

  • Freshen an old item “Project Runway” style – make it shorter, sew fun things to it – view it as a new piece of clothing
  • If you are ready to get rid of an item, try donating it. Check with your local charities, along with many of the more well-know national charities. In fact, some manufacturers are becoming increasingly responsible for the lives of their products and take back some of their clothing for recycling.
  • Donate old sheets, blankets and towels to an animal shelter, to line a dog’s cage or make a cat more comfortable
  • Host a clothing exchange with your friends – free vintage items!
  • Stow away great items. You’ll be amazed ten years later when they are back in style.

What are your tips to be a fashion-friendly environmentalist?

About the author: Deb Berlin works in the EPA Office of Public Affairs on strategic communications.