Category Archives: Environment

Clothes

I read an interesting article in the WSJ about the outsize impact of clothes-buying on the environment.  Apparently, the average American purchases 54 articles of clothing a year.  54!  Some quotes:

Wardrobes take a much smaller share of the household purse than they used to. U.S. consumers spend just 3% of their disposable income on clothing, down from 10% in the 1960s, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The downside is that readier access to inexpensive garments encourages shoppers to buy in greater quantities.

 Of the roughly 100 billion items of clothing produced each year, more than 50 billion are thrown away and subsequently burned or landfilled within 12 months of being made, according to a recent UBS report.

The fashion sector’s long supply chain cuts across multiple countries and sectors, including petrochemicals for fibre manufacturing, making it more complex for governments to rein in. That is despite the fact that the fashion industry contributes up to 10% of global carbon emissions. By comparison, commercial aviation generates just 2% to 3%, according to Citi analysts.

Reducing the amount of clothing sold globally will become an even bigger challenge as consumers in emerging countries develop a taste for fast fashion. In 2006, Chinese shoppers bought 14 items of apparel every year, but this number had more than doubled by 2019, according to UBS. Americans’ purchases also increased over the period, but not by as much—from 48 to 54 items a year.

So, how many articles of clothing did YOU purchase in the last year?  I bought probably more than usual because the year started with me 6 months out from pregnancy and giving birth, but also less, because, like most people, I wasn’t going out as much.  Since I track all my expenses for budgetary reasons, it wasn’t that hard to look this up.

  • 5/11/21 – Gap shorts $36
  • 4/21/21 – JCrew socks $10
  • 2/5/21 – Gaiter $11
  • 2/11/21 – Running shoes $143
  • 1/10/21 – Running socks $15
  • 1/7/21 – Socks $20
  • 1/4/21 – Outdoor Voices Sports bra $26
  • 12/30/20 – Lululemon tights $100
  • 12/30/20 – Lulu sports bra $44
  • 12/19/20 – Camisoles (4) $43
  • 12/8/20 – Running shoes $121
  • 12/4/20 – Amazon shirts (2) $44
  • 12/1/20 – Eddie Bauer shirt $33
  • 11/28/20 – Pink button shirt $18
  • 10/15/20 – Sneakers $94
  • 7/17/20 – Sandals $77
  • 7/6/20 – JCrew shirt $26
  • 7/3/20 – Boden shirt $41
  • 5/31/20 Running shoes $132

So, I bought 23 articles of clothing if you count shoes, 18 if you don’t.  If you exclude socks as well, I’m down to 15.  Not bad, until you consider how unfashionably I dress.

How many garments did you buy last year?

becoming a bit more environmentally friendly

I am no environmental saint.  I didn’t even start recycling until I moved to Seattle in 2004, despite attending grad school in a place where I could easily have done so.  Lately, though, I’ve found myself gradually having more and more interest in taking small environmental steps on my own.

One of these is trash reduction.  It used to be that the smallest trash barrel you could get was 32 gallons.  Recently, though, they changed it, and you can go down to something like 20 gallons or 13 gallons.  At around the same time, they also began collecting yard waste every other week, and you were allowed to put your food waste in.  We started collecting food waste.  With a little trial and error, we have found that storing it in the freezer until it’s time to take it outside is very effective because there is no smell.  (I am very sensitive to smells.)  I am amazed at how much food waste we generate.  Some of it is from food we fail to eat, but most is from things like banana peels, orange peels, the tough bottoms of asparagus, carrot peels and so on.  I can’t believe we used to just throw that stuff away!  After starting to separate our food waste, I found our 32 gallon can was usually less than half full, and we talked about going to a 20 gallon can.  However, this was PI – pre-Isla.  Once Isla arrived, we found our can was nearly full every week.  A major factor is her diapers, obviously.  Before she was born, I was pretty committed to disposable diapers, but it started bothering me that we were generating so much more trash.  As such, we’ve begun a foray into cloth diapers, and now use a bit more than 50% cloth diapers, I’d say.  It’s made a definite difference to our trash, but I’m still not ready to pull the trigger on 20 gallons.    Hopefully we’ll be able to do that in the not-too-distant future.  We just seem to generate more trash since Isla arrived and I’m not sure what it is.

Another thing I’m doing which often seems entirely futile but is also very satisfying is sending e-mails to everyone who sends me catalogs asking to be taken off their mailing list.  I just got infuriated after getting a phone book sized catalog from some furniture company one day, and I started a spreadsheet and track who I e-mail and if they require multiple e-mails.  One of the things that made me the happiest was getting off the list of the people who send the daily or near daily grocery coupons which we never used.  It’s not much work at all, just takes a few minutes, and I do think it’s making a difference.   Hopefully we’ll be nearly catalog free soon.

Next, I really like ordering clothes on eBay (as opposed to, not in addition to, buying new).  I haven’t bought any new clothes in a while.  While ordering used clothes is still consuming, I do feel like it’s a bit better than new clothes.  I like that the prices are cheaper, and you can get really nice stuff.  I’ve also been selling a ton of old stuff on eBay.  Some of it we might have donated to charity, so it’s purely a commercial venture, but other stuff we would have thrown in the trash, and so even if we barely break even, I feel like it’s worthwhile.

The one thing I am torn about are fluorescent lights.  Seattle is a very dark place for much of the year.  We’ve started using fluorescent bulbs lately, and the quality of the light is just so inferior.  I have to say that this may be one area where I am going to do the wrong thing.