Posts Tagged ‘Clothing’

Why secondhand isn’t always green.

In a word (OK, two words), dry cleaning.

Vintage green ballgown

Beautiful dress. Shame about the dry cleaning.

I took a gorgeous dress that I’ve worn to a few parties recently to be dry cleaned today. Man, that made me uncomfortable.

I only buy (or get for free) secondhand clothes. I’ve bought almost no new clothes for years and it now feels scandalously wasteful to me to buy new when there is so much unwanted stuff available (kinda like buying a dog from a breeder when you could take a rescue dog).

My main motivation is to reduce my eco-impact. However, it has other benefits too. It saves me soooo much money. Spending more than a fiver on anything feels extravagant these days. In fact, spending money on clothes at all feels extravagant, given how much I get for free.

And I get great clothes. I love vintage pieces, for their quirkiness, their style and their quality.

Plus I never see anyone wearing the same stuff as me.

The proportion of my vintage stuff that has to be drycleaned is a serious drawback though. Apart from the money it costs (some of my vintage items end up costing me more in drycleaning than they did to buy), dry cleaning’s far from eco-friendly.

I minimise the packaging involved by taking a clothes bag and hanger with me so I can refuse the disposable ones I’d otherwise be given. If the item is already wrapped, I swap the hanger for my own. I don’t leave the plastic wrapping as I suspect they’d put it in the bin.

If I end up bringing a plastic bag home, I put it in a plastic bag recycling bin and, if I end up taking a hanger home, I return it to the dry cleaner for reuse.

Worse than the packaging though is that most drycleaners use perchloroethylene, or perc.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies perc as an air contaminant, which must be handled as hazardous waste. Its website says:

"Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the
human nervous system.  Effects range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches
and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.  Contact with
PERC liquid or vapor irritates the skin, the eyes, the nose, and the
throat.  These effects are not likely to occur at levels of PERC that
are normally found in the environment.

Breathing perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause
liver and kidney damage in humans.  Workers exposed repeatedly to
large amounts of PERC in air can also experience memory loss and
confusion. Laboratory studies show that PERC causes kidney and liver
damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and
by mouth.  Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC in air may
likewise cause cancer in humans.Perchloroethylene by itself is
not likely to cause environmental harm at levels normally found
in the environment.  PERC can contribute to the formation of
photochemical smog when it reacts with other volatile organic
carbon substances in air".

Nasty, huh?

Some time ago, I heard of an alternative. GreenEarth Cleaning is a dry cleaning system that, instead of using petroleum-baesd solvents, uses liquid silicone, which breaks down to sand and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide after use.

However, at that time, it wasn’t available in the UK so I’ve continued simply to use the nearest dry cleaner to me. In researching this blog post though, I’ve discovered that Johnson’s the Cleaners are now using it. Fantastic!

I’ll still favour clothes that don’t need dry cleaning, and have the ones that do need it cleaned as rarely as I can get away with. And I’ll still take my own hangers and clothes bags. From now on though, my dry clean only clothes will be cleaned in silicone, not perc.

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How do you decide when your towels are worn out?

How do you decide when something is ‘worn out’? For me it has to be no longer capable of fulfilling its original function before I’ll call it done for (and then I can sometimes find another use for it). Now part of the function of (most) clothes is to make us look good so I suppose you could argue that they’re ‘worn out’ once they’re so scruffy they no longer do that (though they can still be worn for messy jobs – trouble is I’ve got more clothes for messy jobs than messy jobs to do in them).

When it comes to things whose appearance is less important though, you’ll find me still using them way beyond the point when most people would chuck them out. Dishcloths, teatowels, bath towels, facecloths, (whisper it) knickers (so long as no-one else is going to see them!), bed linen, gym T-shirts. Until a towel no longer gets me dry when I’ve had a shower, I keep using it. And when it reaches that point, it goes in the compost (by that point, there’s not usually enough of it even to cut up to make a moisture mat for my wormery (more of which in my next post).

My friends think I’m bonkers of course (even though I always give guests my best towels). And I have been known to hide the most hole-ridden, thin items before I have visitors. At least I’m not as obsessive as Monica from Friends. Remember episode 4.12 of Friends, when Monica & Rachel go head to head with Joey & Chandler over who knows each other the best?

Ross: Monica categorizes her towels. How many categories are there?
Joey: Everyday use.
Chandler: Fancy.
Joey: Guest.
Chandler: Fancy guest.
Ross: Two seconds…
Joey: Uh, eleven!
Ross: 11. Unbelievable. 11 is correct.

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