The average person is becoming ever more aware of environmental issues. From the increased media coverage and consequent acceptance of climate change to the expanding array of natural, organic and toxin-free products available in stores today.
As CEO of the clothing recycling and reuse company USAgain, I'm pleased to see more and more people around the world pick the 'green' cause as an issue of national sustainability. But while we can make good and responsible choices as consumers, we should also be aware of what the brands we consume are up to while producing the items we buy. While recycling textiles is important, their production is also an important environmental issue.
Clothing production can release a lot of harmful chemicals into the environment, from pesticides used during the growth of cotton, to harmful by-products from dyes and treatment of fabric, to air pollution created by factory emissions.
Recently, Greenpeace International commissioned a report, "Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry" (PDF) that looked at the prevalence of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- which are used as surfactants in textile production -- and how they subsequently break down to form a toxic compound, nonylphenol (NP). NP is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that can build up in the food chain, and is hazardous even at very low levels.
The study analyzed 78 articles of clothing and shoes (both sport and recreational) from 15 major leading brands: Abercombie & Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Converse, GAP, G-Star RAW, H&M, Kappa, Lacoste, Li Ning, Nike, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo and Youngor.
The clothing studied was made from both natural and synthetic fabrics. Greenpeace submitted all 78 articles of clothing for analysis by a leading independent lab, which tested the garments and shoes for the presence of NPEs.
The findings were quite troubling. They revealed that clothing, as well as certain fabric-based shoes, sold internationally by major clothing brands are manufactured using NPEs.
Where released untreated into water systems, NPEs break down in rivers to form the persistent, toxic and hormone disrupting NP. The study reported that, "even where wastewater treatment facilities are present, they are unable to fully breakdown NPEs, and instead only partially degrade them -- often even speeding up their conversion into the toxic NP. Detection of NPEs in fabrics is therefore an indicator that NPEs were used during production, resulting in increased levels of these toxic NP reaching the environment; such as in waterways or rivers," and subsequently our bodies.
We all have our favorite brands, and many people love the clothing and shoes that these companies produce. I'd like to keep wearing them, without hurting my conscience. I urge all readers to learn more about the harmful menace of these chemicals and join the rest in making it clear to all clothing and shoe manufacturers, including these companies, that the use of these chemicals has to end for the sake of our children and future generations.
For more information, you can read the full Greenpeace report here.