Friday 4 November 2011

Clean And Green

Sustainable clothing is a beautiful thing. But unless you're going to do the tremendously ungreen thing of wearing it once and then chucking it (unless you're into single-use paper overalls, of course - that's you're choice, and potentially a great idea for closed-loop clothing) at some point those clothes are going to need washing. Sooner rather than later, if I'm any guide. Hey, I'm an active boy.
I'm assuming that you aren't taking your organic cotton down to the river and bashing the dirt out with a rock. Which means there's a problem. Modern cleaning solutions are, bluntly, a drain on resources and a big worry for the environment. It's been known since the seventies that detergents have pretty harsh aftereffects on aquatic ecosystems. And of course, washing machines and dryers are notorious power hogs.
But we're starting to see a major shift in the way the big brands deal with this problem. Taking their cue from pioneering brands like Ecover, household names like Unilever and Ariel are working hard to (sorry) clean up their act. Persil's Small And Mighty uses a concentrated formula, and in doing so has cut packaging and transport costs in half, as well as putting less waste surfactant and detergent back into the ecosystem. Ariel, meanwhile, have innovated with products that do the job at significantly lower temperatures than before, as low as 15 degrees. New eco-brands like Method, meanwhile, have developed bottles that only distribute the right amount of product, again cutting down on waste and nasty by-products.
But there's still a long way to go. Many older washing machines simply can't wash at 15 degrees, and the idea of buying new has to be balanced against how much more efficient this new tech is going to be. There is still plenty we as consumers can do - the simplest being to start drying clothes on lines again as opposed to in a tumble. New textiles designed to repel dirt and odours could be another step forward. As ever, it's innovative thinking and smarter use of technology that will ensure that in the future, when we clean our clothes, we're not muddying the waters.
For more, read Peter Madden's article in The Guardian.

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