A recent Daily News article on textiles and ecology was a giant eye-opener for me. The article said the textile industry is the second largest consumer of water and also is responsible for 8 to 10 percent of global carbon emissions. This is more than international airplane flights and maritime shipping — combined.
The list of chemicals used in processing raw materials — some of them poisonous — is scary since some remain in the fabric through the manufacturing process and come in contact with our skin. I urge all readers who have access to computers to Google the subject. I was astounded. It never occurred to me to question the safety of the clothes I wear, the upholstery I sit on (too much of the time) and other household linens.
As I researched, my lack of knowledge of basic chemistry was brought home. I’ve never had a real chemistry class — just a skim of the basics. This lack of knowledge was evident when I made the mistake of emptying a basin (in which I had been bleaching something) into the kitchen sink where I had dumped dishwater. It took an hour using open windows and fans to get the ammonia out of the air. This drove home the need to include basic chemistry instructions starting in grade school. Some kid could have easily done the same thing and would have had no idea how dangerous it was or how to handle it. I was well over 40 years old when this happened.
As I tried to research this column, I encountered a daunting list of poison chemicals used in producing textiles. They are used in the process of mercerizing, bleaching, dying, treating for wrinkle-reducing and waterproofing. Even I recognized some of those chemicals as bad news.
We are starting to see some light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. A number of other nations have recognized this situation and have taken steps to remedy it. It appears Scandinavia is leading. There are also a number of manufacturers taking steps to make their products more eco-friendly and safe. Some are the fabric producers, others are clothing manufacturers.
This is a problem that we all have a role in solving by giving thought to how we dispose of our unneeded textiles.
There are few places locally where they can be recycled. Goodwill does sort contributions and packages up suitable offerings to sell to places needing cleaning rags. Thrift shops and consignment shops accept items suitable for resale and reuse, and charities welcome free usable clothing and household goods. The rest lands in the landfill. I called the landfill and they have no program or opportunities for disposing of recycled textiles.
This means we need to try to get as much use out of what we have and dispose of unneeded items thoughtfully. I think we also need to spread the word about this problem so those as ignorant as I was.
We also need to reward manufacturers who are trying to make sure their products are as safe as possible and those who change their manufacturing process to make sure it is as eco-friendly as possible.
This means taking the time to read labels looking for those manufacturers who are eco-friendly and doing our homework and research before we buy new textile items, be they T-shirts or towels. Let’s reward those who reprocess the fibers and make use of textile waste. By applying the power of the dollar, buying wisely and disposing of items we no longer need in a way that conserves the environment and human safety, we can each make a difference.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. firstname.lastname@example.org.