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The 6 Degrees of Green Living…with Cotton!

My version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a game that seems to apply nicely to environmental living. Every product you use, can be linked back to someone or something else and will show an impact to the environment within six degrees.

I started thinking about this when I was on the phone with my friend Cheryl in Chicago. I started babbling on about organic cotton clothing and why (oh why!) is it all the rage to the environmentally conscious?!

Here’s how it works, in theory.

  • If you go to your favorite store and buy a standard cotton t-shirt, that shirt was probably transported to the store in a fuel using, emission producing vehicle, maybe even more than one kind of transportation device.
  • Prior to that, the shirt was produced in a factory, probably over-seas where workers may or may not be treated fairly and with respect.
  • Prior to that the cotton for that shirt was farmed using as much as 20 pounds of chemical pesticides that also seep into ground water and into the skin of farm workers. Most of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.

Ok, so in roughly three steps, I could show that the creation and production of a single cotton t-shirt has a huge environmental impact, from carbon emissions to cancer in farm workers.

By the way, fortunately for us, the process to create a cotton t-shirt, and most other clothes will prevent you from exposure to these pesticides; however, I would recommend that you wash all new clothing before wearing it, no matter where you purchase it.

So what should we do? If you can afford to buy organic cotton clothing, it is a growing option in today’s society. There are lots of online stores to purchase organic clothes made with natural fibers, REI also provides some organic clothing and they provide a special label to make these items easy to identify.

If you are like me, and can’t afford organic clothing, you may want to consider reducing the number of new clothes you purchase. Perhaps I sound like a broken record, but the biggest way to help the environment is to stop buying products and items we don’t need.

If at all possible, try to purchase clothing that is Fair Trade, this will help to ensure that the farmer/producer receives their fair share of the money paid for the product. There are lots of Fair Trade shops online even if it is difficult to find stores. I know that our church has an annual fair trade event that sells all kinds of fair trade products, you may want to see if that option is available to you in your area. Fair trade can be less expensive than organic clothing as well and you are helping others live a better life.

Another option is to just stick to natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen, and silk that are not organic and try to purchase clothes from a second hand shop, consignment shop, or TJ Maxx where last season’s left-overs go to die. This won’t help the farm worker in the cotton field, but at least it will keep chemically derived fabrics out of your closet…this is a whole other issue!

Making a decision to buy fewer clothes or purchase organic can be a bit stressful. Especially when you are used to running into your favorite store and buying something you like without considering the material or what impact it has on the environment. My advice would be to pick your battles. If preventing the spread of chemical pesticides into the bodies and water supply of people and places far away from your home (or maybe in your own backyard) is a topic that get’s your blood boiling, spending the extra money for organic clothing may be right for you, but I do hope that our society becomes more aware of the impact that our lives and habits have on other people in the world, so that each little effort we make, will have a nice cumulative effect to help save the world we live in.

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