Project 333 and the Clothing Debacle

To continue with my minimalism phase, I’ve embarked upon Project 333. Basically you take 33 items of clothing and accessories and wear only those for 3 months. Here are the rules:

  • When: Every three months
  • What: 33 items including clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes
  • What not: these items are not counted as part of the 33 items – wedding ring or another sentimental piece of jewelry that you never take off, underwear, sleep wear, in-home lounge wear,  and workout clothing (you can only wear your workout clothing to workout)
  • How: Choose your 33 items, box up the remainder of your fashion statement, seal it with tape and put it out of sight

Why? Check out my post on minimalism for the long version. The short version: to help me realise I do not need as much stuff as I currently have, in turn, changing my consumption patterns for the future. The less I need, the less resources I will use, the less pressure I will put on the environment.

As well as the above I also excluded:

  • My great-grandmothers wedding band that I wear everyday.
  • Fitness watch – I’m that person that never answers calls because my phone is always on silent, I use the watch so that I can be contacted.
  • Hat and sunglasses as I use these for sun protection rather than accessories.
  • Work uniform

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Every item of clothing, footwear and jewellery I own before picking out the 33.

It took me an hour to make my selection (with a few minor changes in the following days). The hardest part was choosing jewellery! All the rest were shoved into a drawer not to be seen for 3 months. I’ve been on it a week and so far I love:

  • How all my clothing fits into a neat and tidy space.
  • That I can see in one hit what I have to wear, avoiding choice fatigue.
  • I’m washing my clothes less as I’m conscious of changing in and out of my ‘lounge’ clothes at home. Thus saving water too!

What I don’t like:

  • I miss having all my earrings to choose from.
  • I have a wedding in May so the heels and the dress made the cut but seem a bit of a waste as I’ll probably only wear them the once.

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My final selection.


Like anything concerning environmental impact clothing follows the same rules:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce: do I need 3 pairs of black jeans, 10 scarves and 8 pairs of heels? Obviously not and I imagine I’m on the conservative side with respect to how much clothing I own and purchase.

Reuse: thrift, op, charity, vintage, secondhand, taking freebies from friends, whatever you call it reusing pre-loved clothes is a better option than using virgin resources making new ones. As well as a better optin than ending up in landfill.

Recycle: when all else fails and my clothes are no longer okay for the op-shop, I try to repurpose or recycle clothing. I’ve just made some rags from an old terry towelling dressing gown. H&M take your unwanted clothes and sort them into these 3 categories. This is most definitely a load of greenwash on H&M’s behalf but I currently do not know of any other companies that take tired clothes. Let me know if you do!


Why do we all have soooo many clothes? One of the biggest environmental issues with clothing is fast fashion. Clothing is now being manufactured cheaper and faster than ever before. Because it is so cheap and readily available we buy a new piece out of boredom rather than necessity. According to 1 Million Women, fashion is 3rd on the list of global warming contributors only behind oil and meat.

What’s wrong with fast fashion?:

  • Cheaper methods are used during manufacture so these clothes tend to have a stunted life span. I’m thinking of all the clothes I’ve had in the past that have gone out of shape, had threads dangle, torn and pilled after very short periods of time.
  • Even if they do last you the ‘season’ they are designed to be un-fashionable come the next change in physical season. It’s a massive marketing trick to make you spend more money.
  • They’re often made of synthetic fibres – making them harder to recycle into something new. It also means they are not compostable, eventually destined for landfill.
  • It’s simple maths = the more clothes we make, the more resources we require to manufacture them, the more emissions are created through said manufacture, production and transport. This adds to the use of fossil fuels, chemicals, land clearing and in turn the impact we have on the natural environment.
  • Sweatshops – yes they still exists, nothing has changed. An article in Forbes recently stated sweatshop workers only earn US$3 per day, working a staggering 14 hours. Many of these are children as young as 14.
  • Fast fashion means we no longer cherish our clothes, they have become a disposable item. When they are worn-out, physically or fashionably, it seems okay to throw them “away” because it’s so cheap and easy to replace them with new ones. In the US, the EPA estimates textiles contribute 5% of all landfill waste, that’s about 32 kg per US citizen every year. According to Craig Reucassel, Australians throw away 6 tonnes of textile waste every 10 minutes. Stop. Please make it stop!
  • And don’t even get me started on the impact social media is having on our need to wear something new every time a photo is posted of us. Just another way it is attacking our self-esteem.

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Craig Reucassel atop 6 tonnes of clothing, what Australians throw “away” every 10 minutes.

So now I have decided Kmart is the devil and I have promised myself I will never shop there or one of it’s equally sinister cousins again, what are my options? Op-shopping is a good place to start but this is not always practical nor does it close the loop of the life-cycle of the product. For this I need to take into account what material my clothes are made from, something that has never before crossed my mind before.

Clothing textiles:

 

Most of us probably don’t really consider what fabric our clothes are made from, I know I don’t. But it turns out the type of fabric we choose has an environmental impact at every stage of its life-cycle. Here are some of our choices:

  • Nylon/polyester/acrylic or anything else that says poly… – synthesised in a lab, these bad boys are derived from petrochemicals. The manufacture of nylon creates nitrous oxide, which, according to Green Choices, is a whopping 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The manufacture of polyester is both highly water and energy-consuming. Oh and they are difficult to recycle and non-compostable. Next stop, landfill.
  • Rayon/Viscose –  is made from wood pulp, which on the surface sounds more environmentally friendly but to turn a eucalypt tree into a dress requires a shit load of nasty chemicals including caustic soda and sulphuric acid. These chemicals affect air and waterways. Because of our fast fashion society, more and more native habitats are being cut down to make way for fast growing trees like pine and eucalypt to sustain the rayon industry. This destroys habitats and local communities.
  • Cotton –  although occurring naturally, some arugue cotton is the most pesticide and water intensive crop in the entire world. To produce 1 kg of cotton you need more than 20,000 L of water. Cotton degrades soil quality, causes erosion and forces habitat destruction to build more farms.
  • Organic cotton – still a water intensive crop, organic cotton cuts out the need for heavy use of pesticides/herbicides. A better alternative than cotton.
  • PVC – no, just no. It’s completely toxic and should be banned. You do not look good in pleather.
  • Wool/Leather – animal rights issues and intensive farming practices make this one notorious in the vegan/vegetarian circles. I find this one tricky as humans have been using leather and wool for centuries. It’s biodegradable, can often be mended and its recyclable. Unfortunately our unsustainable farming practices today mean it requires land clearing to make way for farms (more habitat destruction), high emissions (methane from farts) and animal rights issues.
  • Hemp – is very productive and tolerant to pests, minimising the need for herbicides and pesticides. Hemp returns nutrients to the soil and requires about half the water and land space cotton does. Definitely one of the greener options but I’ll keep in mind, regardless of the type of plant, if a native habitat is being bulldozed to make way for a monoculture then it’s going to impact the environment negatively.
  • Bamboo – bamboo is fast growing, uses less water and pesticides than cotton so seems like a greener choice. However, to get bamboo from the stick to the cloth requires energy intensive work and chemicals… much like rayon. There are greener versions but it can be hard to discern which ones they are.
  • Linen –  is derived from the flax plant, which uses less water and pesticides than cotton. Production of the flax plant is efficient and most of the byproducts of the plant are used for other things (such as linseed oil). The downfall is linen is labour intensive, making it expensive to produce (does this mean it is also has high emissions?).
  • Recycled plastic – yep, you can now get clothes that are made from recycled plastic. While this method gets gold stars for recycling, I can only assume it would create microplastics that enter waterways when washed at home.

 

But that’s not all! 

Dyeing fabric adds another level to the mix. Dyeing is water intensive, uses harsh chemicals in the process and heavy metals as fixatives. Approximately 10 – 15% of dye is lost during the colouration process. Many dyes are harmful to the environment meaning, even if you went to the effort to buy a natural fibre, some of them are not good for composting at the end of their life.

Not only that, when we wash nylon and polyester, microfibres are entering the marine ecosystem. A study completed in 2011 discovered plastic debris smaller than 1mm is accumulating in marine habitats around the world. Marine organisms are consuming these microplastics, which means if you’re a fish eater, there’s a huge possibility you’re also eating plastic. One of the main sources of these microplastics is from washing our clothes. They believe more that 1900 fibres can enter the waterways per wash! The consequences of ingesting these microplastics is unknown, but surely it can’t be good for us, the oceans or the organisms that live there?!


ARGH! Talk about your wicked problem! I’ve spent the last 3 months diligently cutting back on plastic, turns out about 90% of my clothing contains some form of synthetic fibre, which I now know is contributing to microplastics in the ocean! All my efforts to buy secondhand wasn’t enough. Cue me curling into the fetal position, fretting the impending apocalypse. So now what do I do?

a) throw anything synthetic into landfill so it doesn’t contaminate waterways, but instead will contributing to methane emissions? This will require buying a whole new wardrobe made from undyed, natural fibres.

b) continue to wear my synthetic clothing, knowing that I’m polluting the water but I’m minimising landfill and promise in future to only ever buy/accept natural, undyed materials?

c) stay in the fetal position until said apocalypse, therefore having no need for clothing of any material.

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Minimal Sam

3 thoughts on “Project 333 and the Clothing Debacle”

  1. A great read. I didn’t think about a lot of the information you so obviously took the time to inform me and so many others who may or may not do anything about any of it. But you have reached me and so there is hope that more will also be touched. Good on you for the time you took to enlighten. I will add this to many of the practices I credited myself with taking on, and now so many more. Move over, make room for one more to practice and appreciate the endless tasks of mindful conservation. You are appreciated.

    Like

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