Why Fashion Shouldn’t Cost The Earth

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Image via Flickr creative commons from rubinowicz

The impact a business as huge as fashion can have on the planet and its people is well documented – both anecdotally and in the news. Sweatshop scandals of the 1990s have lest a strong impression. When you buy a new dress, chances are you don’t think twice about where it came from, who made it and what it’s made from.

Earlier this decade, figures from Verdict Research showed that £1 in every £5 spent on fashion in the UK was going to low cost shops. More recently, some of the biggest high street brands have become embroiled in ethical trading scandals.

But the past decade has seen an increase in the globally-conscious shopper – especially in the UK. A chocolate bar, for example, may cost a little bit more when it’s fair trade, yet many will happily pay extra in the knowledge cocoa farmers in the developing world are not being exploited for a desk worker’s sugar fix.

That eco-friendliness also extends into organic fashion. The developed world may not mind suffering for fashion once in a while, but there’s no reason the entire planet should. Organic cotton, for example, should be grown from non-genetically engineered seed and developed without the use of synthetic fertilizers or toxic herbicides and pesticides. It experienced a sales growth of 35 per cent between 2008 and 2009.

The people who make our clothes often work in terrible conditions. Many garments purchased in the ‘Western World’ are imported cheaply from the South, where they are made by sweat shop workers (often children) who work long and hard for very little money.

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was developed with the aim of defining world-wide requirements that ensure the organic status of textiles. It covers everything from harvesting of the raw materials through to environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing. All clothing covered by this must also be labelled in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.

GOTS requires safe, humane working conditions (including regular employment, fair wages and working hours) and specifies that employees cannot be underage or forced labour.

Eco-fashion clothes are made using organic materials – such as cotton grown without pesticides and silk made by worms fed on organic trees. It can also include recycled and improved second hand clothes. Clothes can even be made from plastic bottles. Post-consumer resin (PCR) can be spun into thin fibres that are then used to make a form of polyester. This becomes the fabric to create any type of clothing including exercise outfits, casual shirts and jackets.

It may not seem obvious when you see a bargain sweater or maxi dress, but the products used to make clothing can cause a great deal of damage to the environment. Pesticides used by farmers can harm wildlife, contaminate other products and even get into the food we eat. This is especially true with the chemicals used to bleach and colour.

Thinking about the environment even extends to the clothes we throw as away – which can take up valuable space in landfill sites.

Your Guide To Buying With A Conscience

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Image via Flickr creative commons from Wonderlane

There is a lot to be said for the personal benefits of buying healthy. A selection of fresh, locally grown fruit and veg can work wonders for your well being but it can also be great for the environment. This, if you think about things in the long run, can also be good for you.

There are the simple and obvious things you can do to help make the world a better place, buying fair trade products is one. But if you’re interested in making your lifestyle greener there are a number of small, almost insignificant changes you may not have thought of.

You can look for ways to reduce and recycle in almost any regular activity, but grocery shopping is one of the easiest. By making small changes and eco-friendly purchasing choices, your shopping routine can be an easy way to reduce your impact on the environment.

Shop local

This can help in a number of different ways. When you jump in the car to nip to the supermarket, you impact the environment in more ways than you might imagine. Often, it can be more convenient to order shopping online while sitting on the rather than heading back out again to the supermarket. New research shows it’s also much more environmentally friendly to leave the car parked and opt for groceries delivered to your doorstep.

“A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here,” said Anne Goodchild, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington. “From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions.”

Shopping local should also include buying produce grown nearby. Many will tell you that local food tastes better, which may or may not be true. It is also up for debate whether or not food that has not had to travel as far has higher nutritional value because of its freshness. But with food from further away, details about pesticides, land use, and working conditions are hard to come by. You will also know that it has not had to travel for miles, cutting down on emissions and you will be supporting a local farmer.

Serve seasonal produce

Items such as strawberries and asparagus have to be transported great distances to reach your table in the winter. Because of this, seasonal foods tend to be cheapest – and, when thinking about your green credentials, reducing air and ground transport for food cuts our use of fossil fuels and alleviates air pollution.

Buy food in recyclable containers

If it’s a toss-up between one or another punnet of grapes – go for the one you know is best for the planet as different materials are easier to recycle than others. For instance, all paper and cardboard can be recycled whereas with certain types of plastic it can be more difficult.

It is very important to make sure you don’t just throw them away along with your regular rubbish. If you have to use plastic, such as bags, make sure you’re recycling them. Take a plastic bag back to the shop with you, save having to buy or take another one.

Also look at buying food that is not individually packaged. Aim for loose items to cut down on unnecessary packaging. A lot of the time a pack of, for instance, onions can seem like they are half empty. In this case, go for the loose onions.

Don’t buy more than you need

Being frugal protects your pocket and the environment. Food waste disposed of incorrectly can be a nightmare when it comes to landfill. Around 40 per cent of food produced in Europe is wasted. Methane, a greenhouse gas estimated to be 20 times worse for the environment that carbon dioxide, is created by rotting food and emitted from landfills as food rots. Avoid this by buying less and disposing of everything you don’t use properly.

Free range animals raised for meat also put less strain on the ground where they’re raised and do not require as much in the way of antibiotics. Animal waste that is free of antibiotics and chemicals is friendlier to groundwater, plants and wildlife.