fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday, I don't care about you.

Image via.

So, after a hike along the coast and gazing out over the blue waters, hoping to spot a whale, Jack asks an important question: "Why did we screw it all up?"

Well, the reasons for screwing up the earth have to do with survival and comfort and ego and ignorance and greed and progress and habit, I suppose. Human nature being, by nature, antithetical to nature-nature. I will not claim that I tread lightly on the earth. No, I tread not lightly at all. But I try to tread lighter. I try to make an effort to understand my choices and how they effect the earth. Recently, I did some research into a topic near and dear to me: Textiles.

Did you know that the manufacturing of textiles uses twenty-five percent of all synthetic chemicals manufactured in the world? I think that bears repeating: One quarter of all man-made chemicals are made by man just to make textiles. Here's another jaw dropper: Did you know that it takes up to 700 liters (185 gallons) of freshwater to make a single kilogram of fabric (just over two pounds)? Imagine 37 of those large 5-gallon water cooler jugs to make about two yards of material. That's almost a full pallet of water at CostCo. That's a lot of freshwater. This water is then contaminated with dyes, cleaning agents, finishing chemicals, as well as chemicals used in the making of synthetic fibers. These toxins can then cause immense environmental damage when discharged untreated into rivers and lakes. Anecdotally, it has been said that rival apparel companies have learned of the competitions’ color choices for the upcoming season by looking at the discharged water in the local rivers in poorly regulated industrial areas. According to the Wall Street Journal in 2007, "Prices on fabric and clothing imported to the U.S. have fallen 25% since 1995, partly due to the downward pricing pressure brought by discount retail chains. One way China’s factories have historically kept costs down is by dumping waste water directly into rivers. Treating contaminated water costs upwards of about 13 cents a metric ton, so large factories can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by sending waste water directly to rivers in violation of China’s water-pollution laws."

But let's say you don't care about pollution over there. Let's say we're a callous bunch and can live with cheap clothing and inexpensive fabric, because the pollution is all over there. Problem for the callous among us is still, is that the pollution is not all over there. It's over here: Some leading researchers claim to have traced one-third of the particulates in the smog in Los Angeles and other western cities to industry in Asia. In one particularly troubling incident in 1998, unhealthy pollution levels were measured in the American Northwest and Canadian Southwest, areas containing little industrial manufacturing. 75% of the pollution was traced to China. These researchers are studying airborne rivers of pollution wider than the Amazon and deeper than the Grand Canyon that span the entire Pacific Ocean which carry, among other pollutants, perhaps three-quarters of the black carbon in West Coast smog.

Satellite image of trans-contiental dust river via NASA.

Black carbon particulates are particularly nasty: They contributes to both lung disease and is very likely responsible for 50% of temperature increases in the Arctic regions.

"In a very real and immediate sense, you can look at a dust event you are breathing in China and look at this same dust as it tracks across the Pacific and reaches the United States," said climate analyst Jeff Stith at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado to the Wall Street Journal. "It is a remarkable mix of natural and man-made particles."

Los Angeles smog, Made in China
So, it's not just my SUV making make all this smog. Part of it comes from my jeans, too.

Textile production is recognized as a major polluter where regulation is not enforced. And, let's face it: There's a big difference between having a law and then enforcing that law. I find it noteworthy that while more attention is placed on the environmental damage the textile industry causes, less data is forthcoming from the textile producing nations. The big dog in the room, China, gave these figures in April: According to Ministry of Industry and Information, China's textile industry generated RMB812.6 billion of industrial value added in 2007, accounting for 6.9% of the country's total and 3.3% of GDP. Around 30% of the textile products were sold in the international market. In 2007, China's textile and garment exports amounted to US$175. That's not small potatoes. Since the global economic downturn, China has announced a five-point plan to boost the Chinese textile industry: This plan is focused on developing indigenous brands and updating technology. Not a word in there about actively reducing pollution, only as pollution relates to upgrading equipment for improved efficiencies. Just sayin'.

I figure, right now, before countries like China have developed independent brands, multinational companies based in the West, but manufacturing in China, will have the upper hand in discussing pollution. Once China has it's own viable brands, it may be a different story. And who has an upper hand with Western multinationals? Well, I do. Not as much as I'd like, but as a consumer, I determine in a very small way a company's viability. A very, very, very small way. Very, very, very, very, very small. But a way, nonetheless. No, I haven't had the nerve to ask a fabric maker, "So, what are the waste water management practices at your supplying mill in Zhangjiagang?" But I do think about it. By default, then, I like to take manufacturing standards, such as REACH, Öko-Tex, and ISO 9000 standards, the production location and manufacturing practices into consideration when I purchase each yard of my fabric. As a general rule of thumb, if I am unable to determine if the fabric was milled according to an international standard, I aim for fabrics milled and dyed in the United States and the European Union. While many popular makers of fabric, who mill outside the United States and European Union, make fabrics free of lead and harmful chemicals, I'm not entirely confident about the manufacturing practices and waste management. Most U.S. and E.U. mills adhere to international manufacturing standards and environmental laws are generally rigorously enforced in these countries. I figure, if you can determine if the fabric was milled and dyed in the United States or the European Union, it is very likely that the manufacturing practices involved were considerably less polluting. Yes, my fabric costs more. A lot more. Or am I just, in fact, paying the real price? We'll all end up paying the price one way or the other. “Prices in the U.S. are artificially low,” says Andy Xie, former chief economist for Morgan Stanley Asia, who now works independently, told the Wall Street Journal. “You’re not paying the costs of pollution, and that is why China is an environmental catastrophe.”

In President Obama's recent speech on climate change, he reminded us what President Kennedy once said, "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."


Yvonne said...

When too many people are strapped for cash and Since this stuff is available many just don't have a choice but to go for the cheap clothing and shoes, rather than having to go without or walk barefoot until you do have money for the good shoes. I do understand situations like that.

But even with no financial problems, many will simply always go to the cheap and buy more for less. Too many are simply too addicted to stuff!

Someone I know always comes to my mind. She pumps so much money into Walmart and "doesn't believe in recycling" like it is a matter of believing in spirituality. The facts do not seem to phase her and she has 5 young children. It drives me nuts.

Speaking of recycling, I love when I travel to Germany and have a hard time throwing away trash.. They have so many recycling laws that my Grandmother has, I believe, 4 or 5 different recycling bins in her kitchen and the trash does not get picked up, if it's not done right.
Here there would be such a hoopla made about "you are restricting my freedom to throw trash away the way I want to"... Our pride is all misplaced.

Anyway, I feel pretty good about offering Euro fabrics and doing small, small parts to help this earth including educating my children on how to treat this planet kindly, but it does get rather frustrating (to say the very least) at times when you look at the big picture you are describing and there seems to be little hope things will change unless many more people will see and want to do something about it.. I have little hope though. Making and saving a quick and dirty buck is a powerful thing.

Eva said...

Even though you might feel like David flinging this tiny stone of environmental awareness at the cheap stuff consuming Goliath, I still believe in change. Change can be made, in fact, it happens all the time: to the better and, of course, to the worse.
But what's important: Environmental laws have been enforced in the first place, which has been a great achievement. Now it is up to every single person to stick to them. Somebody has to make a start.

See, I live in Germany, recycling to me is naturally by now! (Well, maybe except that organic waste bin... they did not thouroughly think that one through. Because if you just keep throwing this organic waste in a big bin without any chance of oxygene getting to it, all you get is a big pile of malodorous, anaerob decaying sludge which is, in fact, very harmful if not poisonous to all plants and has nothing to do with healthy compost at all.... but maybe I am just so digusted by the sight of all those fat maggots crawling around the not any longer "organic" waste bins.. but I'm losing my thread....)

What I am aiming at: if I start looking out for fabric manufactured by i.e. Ökotex standard, I'm sure eventually others will follow and maybe one day the manufactureres will notice that their cheap stuff doesn't sell to well anymore. It is all a question of supply and demand.
Look at all those supermarkets all of a sudden offering "Eco" products. (Sure, I know that there is not always "Öko" in the package just because it says so on the outside... but still, it shows they got the message.)

And for all those who, like me, can't always afford the ecologically manufactured fabrics: vintage fabric is a very good choice...

So Grandma, better watch out for these old bedsheets... ;o)


Jennifer said...

I agree with Eve, on the vintage front. In the 12 thrift stores in my town, there is plenty of fabric to keep many crafters busy a long time, not to mention clothe our families. I know some people who find wearing thrifted clothes icky: I find it far ickier to consider the toxins and labor exploitation that went into thier new $12.99 sweater.

Which is not to say I don't buy new things, more often than I truly need to. But the more I think of it, the more thrift stores seem like a part of the answer, at least for my family.

Harmony said...

I realize this post is a bit old, but I recently stumbled upon it and it definitely hit a cord with me.

I have been designing textiles for over a decade now. Initially I was just grateful to have a job. Eventually it struck me that I made "pretty landfill" - products that were so cheap they would quickly be replaced... and made in ways I didn't have any control over by people who were likely getting paid pennies. sigh. Once the "truth" about my textiles was known I couldn't live with myself.... I had to make a change.... and I did.

I think that WE (you, me, our friends, neighbors, etc) are WAY more powerful than we think. I think we are all over-stuffed with products. CHEAP has meant we disposable rather than cherished... but I think it is time for the pendulum to swing the other way. I think that if we start spending thoughtfully (and yes this will mean more $$) rather than braggin' about the "deal" we may find ourselves braggin' about how this fabric is cleaning up rather than polluting the world we share. I agree that the time is ripe for us to effect change in China and everywhere.

It is easy to blame multinational corporations but they keep making it because we keep buying it. Yes, when times are tough I know cheap can be a beautiful thing but I think re-used/up-cycled can be even more lovely because it has a story/history the 99cent store will never be able to replicate.

I challenge each of us to plant seeds of change - opt for the organic, fair-trade products whenever we can and when we can't tell the sales people we wish they carried it. A good example of how people can quickly effect change is the story of CFCs in hairspray... but I won't keep rambling.

Thank you for your thoughts and actions! Truly.

Harmony said...

OK... I JUST posted a comment then checked my email... only to find a link to this article:
China to shut textile mills and considers new eco tax - you can read more: http://www.ecotextile.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10776:china-to-shut-textile-mills-considers-eco-tax&catid=26:dyes-chemicals&Itemid=38

Note: you do have to register (free) to read the entire article. The timing was too coincidental not to pass this on. :)


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