Are Your Blue Jeans are Killing Mother Earth? – Textiles Report by @tnt_tauna
Most of us do not take the time to think where and how the items they buy are made, but it’s time that we should, especially when it comes to apparel. Denim has become one of the most widely accepted fabrics used in apparel. According to On Earth, a publication by the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are about 450 million pairs of jeans sold in the U.S. each year. That’s 1.5 pairs for every man, woman, and child. Additionally, they reported that the average woman has eight pairs of jeans in her closet! Clearly we all wear denim, now it’s time to take a close look at the impact denim has on the environment.
The main issues in denim manufacturing are energy usage, waste water, and the toxic chemicals that are used in the processing, dyeing, and finishing of the fabric. The fiber of denim, cotton, requires enormous amounts of water and pesticides just to grow it. The indigo dye used to give denim that deep blue color is insoluble in water, making it a contaminant and a hassle to dispose of. To give it that worn in look that is so high in demand, denim needs to be washed with harmful chemicals, sand blasted, or stone washed with pumice stone, none of which are good for the environment or the workers who handle the processing (Apparel Online).
Levi Strauss & Co. shared their Product Lifecycle Assessment on their website, examining their 2006 production year for jeans in the U.S. market. Take a look at this chart to get an idea of how wasteful denim manufacturing really is:
They found that one pair of 501s required almost 3500 liters of water, 400 megajoules of energy, and expelled 32 kg CO2. To put these statistics in perspective, that’s equivalent to the water usage of running a garden hose for 106 minutes + 53 (7min) showers + flushing the toilet 575 times! The energy usage equals watching TV on a plasma screen for 318 hours + using a computer for 556 hours! And the CO2 emissions compare to driving the average car for 78 miles + the carbon sequestered by 6 trees per year! All that wastefulness for just ONE pair of blue jeans, it’s unbelieveable!
Industry expert, Michael K Hodges, President of JCT Limited, shares with Apparel Online,
“The problem with denim today is the discharge levels required in the manufacturing process which is so excessive that the recycling capacity cannot handle the output – until this is addressed denim will not truly go Green.”
While it’s not a solution to making denim truly green, a process called Ozone Washing has proven to greatly reduce water and energy consumption as well as use less chemicals. Yes, I’m talking about the same Ozone that’s in our stratosphere. Ozone is produced when oxygen is exposed to ultraviolet light which splits oxygen to form single atoms, then they combine to form ozone molecules. It is then dissolved in wash water or mixed with steam and sprayed on denim in a sealed chamber. The ozone breaks down as it reacts with the fabric changing the color of the indigo dye to give it a bleached effect in the creases for a worn in look. According to an article originally published in The Stitch Times, Ozone not only provides a great wash but it eliminates tinting from the reverse of the denims as well as from the pocket fabric, sewing thread, zippers, labels, and buttons giving the garment a cleaner look. Astonishingly, Ozone also destroys all air borne microorganisms such as bacteria, mold, viruses, fungi, and spores, essentially sanitizing the garment.
“Furthermore, the discharge of the Ozone purifies the atmosphere by adding freshness and giving clear, pollution free-oxygen rich air.” – S.P. Keshan, Managing Director of Spectrum Washing Private Ltd.
Now that’s a byproduct we can live with! Jeanologia is a research and development center in Spain that discovers, creates, and sells industrial solutions in garment finishing such as ozone washing machines. They have reported on their website that their G2 Plus ozone washing machine saves 62% Energy, 67% Water, and 85% Chemicals per garment.
According to NPR, 75% of the designer jeans sold in the world are made in California making Los Angeles a world leader in bluejeans (Glinton). One LA based denim brand, Tortoise Jeans, is taking Ozone washing to the next level by implementing their patent pending Wiser Wash process. Their process begins with ozone washing but adds starfish rather than pumice stone because it can be recycled along with the water and it has the same effect on the garment. According to their website, the Wiser Wash recycles 99% water, saves 76% energy and uses NO chemicals. Tortoise Jeans is pioneering a change in the denim industry starting at the hub of denim manufacturing in California.
With the development of new processing techniques, industry professionals are hopeful for the future of denim but there needs to be more conversation about the issues for real change to take place.
Senior Director of Color, Concept, and Design at Dockers, Paul Dillinger, had this to say on the subject,
“Maybe one day, discussions of the celebrities’ red carpet choices will go beyond daring color and revealing neckline to include the use of sustainable fibers and natural dyes” (Gunther).
Perhaps if there were more people of influence like celebrities bringing attention to the way our textiles are made and processed, more people would change their buying habits to those companies that are taking responsibility for providing sustainable products. Ultimately, the power lies within OUR HANDS to demand eco-friendly goods by using our wallets to show manufacturers what matters most to us. Until that happens, the cost of sustainable goods will continue to soar and the majority of manufacturing companies will see no need to change. Meanwhile, there are a few pioneers in the industry who are leading the way in sustainable processing like ozone washing and hoping to influence others to follow suit.
As a fashion blogger, I am committed to voicing these issues to my sphere of influence as well as celebrating those who are making strides towards sustainable practices. I firmly believe change is possible and my hope is that the fashion industry can one day become truly Green.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Does it surprise you that denim isn’t so eco-friendly? I want to know! Tell me in the comments below!