Catchy title right? What I am about to explain to you is even "catchier". This is what's not mentioned to you when you decide to spend $30.00 on a 100% cotton t-shirt because the saying on the front makes you feel impactful. Hey - I am by no means exempt from being a culprit. I am wearing a 50% polyester, 50% cotton shirt that says "feed your soul"... I don't even know so don't bother. Basically, what I am trying to say is this: what you see on the surface of a company's product may not be the full story. Before I continue, let's familiarize ourselves with how a 100% cotton t-shirt is typically made (a t-shirt's full life expectancy is typically 2 years until it gets shipped off to a landfill).
THE LIFE CYCLE OF A BASIC COTTON T-SHIRT:
Keep in mind, the majority of cotton fields use more pesticides and insecticides than any other type of crop in the world. These can be carcinogenic, harmful to the health of field workers and damage surrounding ecosystems. Yes, 100% organic cotton is produced without the use of pesticides and insecticides but organic cotton makes up for 1% of the global production of cotton.
Starting in either India, United States or China cotton puffs grow on local farms. The puffs are harvested, and then machines (cotton gins) separate the puff from the seeds. After that first stage is complete, 225 kg bails are packed down into crates and shipped to spinning factories in China or India. After the blend, card, comb, pull, stretch and twist phases are complete, the yarn is sent to mills. It is then weaved into fabric. The fabric is then treated with heat and chemicals where the fabric turns white and soft. The fabric is then dipped into bleach and dyes, which contain extremely harmful chemicals (including lead and mercury).
The waste water used to make the fabric is dispensed into the local community. The waste water is filled with the toxic chemicals it took to produce the soft, colourful cotton. The final step in getting your freshly pressed “save the bees” t-shirt to your doorstep, is the most daunting in terms of the carbon emissions.
From the factories, t-shirts are shipped worldwide and then distributed to stores. Ironically, your shirt you’ve purchased might even say “there is no planet B”. Well thanks captain obvious, but we need a planet b even more now because of your purchase (not necessarily your fault because this is not mentioned when you go to checkout). Unfortunately, you would have never thought about all of this because as long as these companies are making a profit, they’ll manipulate you into buying what's trendy.
I know what you're thinking, sweet lord I can never win. I'm either not doing enough or doing the wrong thing. How can I get it right? Just be aware. Be aware of the reason for a purchase. Be aware if it's a need or an unpractical want. Be aware of the company's goals that you're supporting. And keep in mind that the more we PRODUCE the more WASTE we are producing. Whether your t-shirt is advocating for sustainability or not with mass production comes mass waste. No one has it right, it's a constant learning process but don't be ignorant to the fact that our planet is the hottest it's been in 140 years of recorded history, that wildfires are increasing at an uncontrollable rate and hurricanes are wiping out a sickening amount of communities. For more on what our planet looks like today: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/12/the-decade-we-finally-woke-up-to-climate-change/#close
If COVID-19 has made me realize anything, it has opened my eyes to the fact that I need about 15% of the total amount of things I own. I am not saying stop shopping. But I will say stop adding fuel to the fire that is consumerism. Instead, educate yourself on why the growing rate of consumerism is destroying our planet. Educate yourself on climate change initiatives in your community, educate yourselves on where your local governing body stands in terms of environmental issues.
My advice for being a smart, environmentally aware consumer would be this:
Know the brands you are supporting. Where do they manufacture? Do they have active labour standards in place? What is the quality of their products? Are they actively learning about ways to reduce their carbon footprint or are they purely after delivering to you the newest trend?
SHOP LOCAL. Not just because it helps companies stay afloat during the pandemic but because by shopping local you are reducing the need for global mass transportation of goods. Reducing the carbon emissions produced just on the transportation process from factories to shops.
If you need to fulfill the itch to retail shop, shop at stores like winners, thrift stores, consignment stores, farmers markets, artisan shops, or brands with quality as their bottom line not quantity.
USE YOUR DAMN THINGS UNTIL THEY CAN NO LONGER BE USED.
I am too, continuously learning. I find everyday that what I knew and thought yesterday now has a controversial impact today. I am staying open and optimistic to the ever-changing developments we are continuously exposed to. The biggest thing we can do is to stay educated and aware.
I leave you with this: What would our world look like if we researched the clothing we buy like we research the cars or the phones we buy?
*My research with this post was sourced from a brilliant Ted Talk video that I will link below: