Monday, August 11, 2008

Laundry day -- a little greener, a little better

At the heart of this blog is one person's desire to "do the right thing"; sometimes the first step is to figure out what the "right thing" is. Take laundry.

As newlyweds back in the 1970s, we usually rented apartments without any kind of laundry facilities, and we spent our Sunday afternoons in laundromats. During the two years we lived in Rhode Island, our place had a yard and a clothesline, something that I had not used since my family moved to the suburbs in the early 60s. It was marvelous, in nice weather, to skip the over-heated drying cycle at the laundromat, bring the clean, wet laundry home and hang it out to dry. Sea breezes and sunshine -- you can't bottle that smell!

But then came kids and home ownership and the convenience of a washer and dryer in the basement; beyond looking at EnergyStar washers and using cold water, we didn't think too much about the link between our weekly laundry habits and the environment. Then the dryer died in January and we couldn't afford to fix it. Since then, we've been drying our clothes on racks, either in the basement or on the deck, until finally getting a new unit on sale last month. It's given me some time to think about the environmental impact of laundry and to start to do some research on the subject.

Well-Dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the UK, a University of Cambridge report, asked the question "What is required to make a substantial change?" in carbon emissions associated with the clothing and textiles industry. The answer, it would appear, is that consumers have a vital part to play.

The sector’s contribution to climate change is dominated by the requirement for burning fossil fuel to create electricity for heating water and air in laundering some completed products – mainly clothing and carpets.

I already knew that most of the carbon footprint of a cotton T-shirt was in its care, not its production. But I hadn't extrapolated to the more general impact of our laundering habits. The entire 84-page report is a available as a free PDF, and, although focused on the UK, offers food for thought for consumers around the world.

More to come as I digest the report!

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