Environmental Impact of Laundering our Clothes

Who would have thought that our 21st century laundering habits would have such a detrimental effect on the global eco-system? Yes, our clothes cleaning habits have been causing excessive water and energy wastage and are now jeopardising the health of our oceans.

In sustainable terms, during the whole lifecycle of a garment the largest carbon footprint area occurs during the ‘use’ phase through the washing, drying and ironing of the item.

The convenience of the washing machine and the ‘marketed desire’ for cleanliness has created an acceptance that means we need to wash our clothes more frequently than needed. This marketing of cleanliness and the ‘need’ to be whiter than white has created a culture and normalisation for ‘washing’ each day. Prior to the luxury of the automatic washing machine ‘wash day’ was Monday and ‘Wash Day Blues’ were real. The mundane reliability of ‘wash day’ in women’s lives was a concept captured by Viv Davy in her work ‘Wash Day Ribbons’. The enormity of ‘wash day’ meant that clothes were carefully sorted and intentionally (and laboriously) cleaned. Only dirty clothes were laboured over, unlike today when the pile mounding in the corner of your teenager’s room, miraculously vanishes only to reappear in the laundry basket… However, the reality is that washing your clothes too often (unnecessarily) can wear them out quickly. Any friction affects the surface of the textile causing change/loss to the fibres on the surface. Sometimes loose fibres roll-up or ‘pill’, sometimes they untwine from the yarn and are dispersed. Either way every wash risks the fibre integrity of your treasured garment.

In her work 'Nobody was Dirty’, Tullia Jack also investigated the inconspicuous consumption of laundry routines, confirming ‘laundering is based on cultural mores, rather than hygienic requirements’. Tullia’s research project ‘intervened into the laundry practice of a group of jean wearers from Melbourne who wore the same pair of jeans for at least five days a week over three months without washing them’. Her findings suggest a considerable opportunity for making garment use more sustainable: saving resources involved in laundry routines through less laundering

The average washing load uses 20-30 litres of water per kg of dry clothing and according to Procter & Gamble Co the average household washes 6 -7 loads per week, this would equate to 175 litres of water per week per household or 9,100 litres per year that‘s equivalent to the recommended daily water intake for more than 4500 people... Given these averages, say for example, in Morrinsville, Aotearoa New Zealand a township of approximately 1800 households, we might expect 16.8 million litres of town supply - water fit for drinking - to be used to clean clothes (that may not even be dirty).

All this wastage of potential drinking water is taking place at a time in the world when 1 in 9 people do NOT have access to clean drinking water.

Along with wasting water, the detergents we are over-using are manufactured using potentially damaging chemicals. Well known New Zealand brand, Eco Store, guarantees to contain no nasty chemicals, and lists them as Petrochemicals, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate-SLS Phosphates Chlorine Ammonia, hormone disrupting ammonia derivatives: Triethanolamine, Diethanolamine and Monoethanolamine, Parabens, Propylene Glycol, Optical Whiteners (these make clothes appear whiter and brighter by absorbing UV light and reflecting to make whites appear bluer - in order to work they need to stay in your clothes after washing).

Aside from the water, energy and chemicals wasted through laundering unnecessarily combined with the risk of reducing the useful life of each washed fabric item, discharged waste fibres have invaded our eco-system. In fact, every time we wash synthetic items, hundreds of tiny microfibres are shed into the wastewater. They are so minute that they pass through filters in the municipal waterways and flow straight out with treated water into the eco-system. Some scientists are suggesting microfibres may be more prevalent in the world’s oceans than the recently banned microbeads.

Wasteless-Kiwi discourages over laundering, seeking alternatives for laundering through design. Wasteless-Kiwi garments are designed for wearing in a way that reduces the need for laundering.

Fewer items to launder means fewer weekly wash loads, and reducing wash loads will benefit global eco-systems. Underwear, that can be easily cleaned, protects the outer garments from bodily dirt and odours, so in most cases loose and semi-fitted garments can be refreshed simply by hanging in the breeze – no need to wash after every wear. Generally accidental spills can be spot cleaned with a small amount of water followed by air drying the item – the whole item does not need to be cleaned. So, at Wasteless-Kiwi, we recommend thinking twice before loading the washing machine, pouring in the chemicals and turning on the power.

Care more wash less and save our precious resources. #caremorewasteless #caremorewashless

This blog post was originally authored by Kim Fraser and posted during September 2017 in Fraser Crowe.

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