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How and Why to Green Your Textile Choices

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1. Choose fabrics that are "organic fabrics" not simply fabric made from organic fibers. There is a big difference between an organic cotton T-shirt and an organic textile T-shirt. What is the difference? The fiber, organic cotton, used to make the fabric may have been raised with regard to health and safety of the planet and people; but the production of the fabric from the cotton was not. There are many steps in the production of fabric AFTER the raising or extraction of the raw fiber material. Textile production steps can include carding, retting, scouring, bleaching, spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, and finishing. These steps use a lot of two things: chemicals and water. Water is used at every stage in fabric manufacturing: to dissolve chemicals to be used in one step,then to wash and rinse out those same chemicals to be ready for the next step. Chemicals needed in fabric production weigh between 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric. The production of the fabric covering your sofa required between 4 and 20 pounds of chemicals. The chemically infused effluent -saturated with dyes, de-foamers, detergents, bleach, optical brighteners, equalizers and many other chemicals - is often released into the local river, where it enters the groundwater, drinking water, the habitat of flora and fauna, and our food chain. As Gene Lisa has said, “There is not a 'no peeing' part of the swimming pool.” We’re all downstream. Many of these chemicals are known to cause profound health problems in humans; when theyhave been tested for toxicity at all. The Toxics Release Inventory of the US EPA reports that over 25,000,000 lbs. of toxic chemicals were released by US textile mills in 1995: that’s 25,000,000 lbs of just the chemicals classified as toxic by the not very aggressive US government - and those are the toxic chemicals produced in the US alone. The US textile industry is almost non-existent. Imagine what the Chinese mills are doing. 2. Search for a fabric or product that is certified by any textile certification agency. There are lots of different competing textile certifications right now, so the scene is currently confusing. But any of them -GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard), Blue Sign, Cradle to Cradle, Green Guard, the EU Eco-Label or Flower, Oeko-Tex - are a good choice right now. (Both GOTS and Blue Sign include fair tradeand workers' rights considerations.) Any of them are a good choice because there are so few fabrics thatare certified; and you're buying any one of the certifications lifts all boats right now. 3. Buy "bast" or other more eco-friendly fibers. Do look for organic textiles, but the certification is brand new, so don't expect to find much in the very near future. In the absence of a GOTS (GlobalOrganic Textile Standard) fabric as a practical choice, pay attention to the fiber used in any textile you buy. Currently conventionally raised cotton (versus organic cotton) and synthetic fibers (those made from petroleum are the world's most popular fibers by far. When choosing a natural fiber, try to avoid buying anything made with conventional cotton. This may be hard at his date. But, if you have a choice, linen, hemp, bamboo, abaca, wool, or any other natural fiber are good additions to the world's textile choices,and much better eco choices than conventionally raised cotton. If you must choose a synthetic fiber, insist on recycled polyester, and, best of all, an antimony free polyester. (Antimony is used in the production of most polyester, and it is an extremely toxic chemical at end of life.) Why avoid conventionally raised cotton? Currently cotton is the world's most popular naturalfiber - accounting for 80% of all natural fibers used in the world - and the world's worst environmental and health choice. The cultivation of cotton is such a thorough environmental and health disaster as to be almost unbelievable. The cultivation of cotton requires inordinate amounts of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. Conventional cotton must be drenched with chemicals: it accounts for 25% of all the pesticides used globally. 1 And on average, in addition to this huge volume of pesticides, farmers applyseven times more chemical fertilizer on cotton crops than they do pesticides; and they use 10% of all herbicides used in the world. These chemicals pollute the groundwater, and enter the food chain. Many ofthe chemicals used on cotton are listed among the most hazardous pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency. Conventionally grown cotton is so full of pesticides that in California farmers can no longer legally use the leftover leaves and stems to feed their livestock. Cotton cultivation also demandsvast quantities of water, resulting in soil salinization, aquifer depletion and desertification of large tractsof entire countries. Although the cultivation of organic cotton largely solves the problems associated with the use ofc hemicals, organic cotton is still classified as one of the top “thirsty” crops by Oxfam, leading to the same problems of soil salinization, aquifer depletion and desertification. 2 But organic cotton is a better choice than conventional cotton. Do not buy anything made from conventionally raised cotton if you canpossibly do this. Linen, bamboo, hemp and abaca are good additions to the world's fiber choices. 4. Keep yourself educated on the progress of the eco-textile community. It is small now but passionate,and much progress can be made if you support the movement. Many new techniques are possible such as using ultrasound for dyeing, thereby eliminating the use of water entirely; and drying fabrics using radio frequencies rather than ovens, saving energy. So continue to keep yourself educated. Refer to links on the Sustainable Furniture Council website for developments. Look for the Sustainable Furnishings Council membership in furniture you buy. 5. Demand organic textiles. Tell manufacturers and stores what you want and will buy. Yes, it'scomplicated and irritating – and ecotextiles are really hard to find - and they are also more expensive right now (mostly because of low volume but also because of the slower production speeds in production without chemicals). But eco consciousness in textiles is major progress in reclaiming our stewardship of the earth, and in preventing preventable human misery. If you, the consumer, demand or support theefforts, more progress can be made - and rapidly. Patty Grossman, CEO, heads the textiles division for the Sustainable Furnishings Council. She will be speaking at a free luncheon during the High Point Market on Wednesday October 22nd, 12-1PM on the top floor of Suites at Market Square next to the EcoStyle Pavilion. Her topic will be, “Green Upholstery” Everything you need to know about frames to foams and fabrics (how and why to green your textile choices). Presented by Chris Putnam, Dir. of Development of SFC, and CEO Patty Grossman of O Ecotextiles and sponsored by Harden. For more information contact Patty Grossman, Leigh Anne Van Dusen Ecotextiles, Inc. www.oecotextiles.com Footnotes: 1 Allen, Will, “Fact Sheet on U.S. Cotton Subsidies and Cotton Production”, Feb. 2004, Organic Consumers Association,www.organicconsumers.org/clothes/224subsidies.cfm 2 World Wildlife Fund (www.panda.org) “Cotton: a water wasting crop.”

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