In my book, everyone, no excuses as long as you have functioning hands, should be able to use a needle and thread. But I am always amazed by the number of people who say “oh, I could never sew a button on” or “Im so uncrafty, I could never sew anything”. I am not suggesting that all of us should have the skill set to compete on Project Runway (shout out to one of my favorite shows ever!), but I do think everyone needs to know how to sew. And one good reason you should know basic sewing is to combat climate change.
Yes, sewing and climate change (I’m surprised they havent come up with this as a Project Runway theme challenge of some sort) are connected. Let’s start with the fact that, according to the EPA, 13 million tons of textiles were thrown away in 2010, comprising about 5% of the total US solid waste stream. That’s more than 80 pounds per man, woman or child in this country! And EPA estimates only about 15 percent of this total was recovered or recycled. As we have discussed before, what goes to a landfill sits in a landfill, and contributes to landfills’ significant role as generators of greenhouse gas.
Of course that’s just the end-of-life carbon cost. Making clothes has a carbon cost as well, from the carbon costs of growing the textiles and materials that are used, or creating them synthetically from plastics (often fossil-fuel based), to the costs of processing them using machinery and equipment, to trucking them to the stores and to you the consumer. All this adds up to the estimate that the U.S. textile industry is the 5th largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the United States. And here’s an amazing calculation: clothing and textiles accounted for about one ton of the 19.8 tons of total CO2 emissions produced by each person in the U.S. in 2006. When you think about all the other stuff my household regularly consumes, beyond textiles, that all have their own carbon footprint- food, gas, electronics, pharmaceuticals, pet care- this number, about 5% of our household carbon footprint- kind of blows me away.
Back to mending: by repairing our clothes, we keep it working condition, so we don’t have to throw it away, nor do we have to buy new stuff to replace it. Of course, mending is one small part of a comprehensive approach to reducing our textile carbon footprint; we also donate gently used clothes to Goodwill or American Red Cross (they will even pick stuff up right from our house!). And it can be economically as well as environmentally viable to buy fewer, better made clothes, that last longer and make a smaller impact. There’s also hope that we might soon be able to have a clearer understanding of the carbon footprint of the clothes we buy, as they have in the UK, with the start of a carbon label program for clothing.
Finally, clothes certainly do get to a point (particularly for my 6 year old) where you just cant mend them any more and they might not be good enough for donation. What then? Other than use them as rags for a while, which we do, its hard to know what to do with textiles when they come to the end of their lives. There too, we are starting to see some hopeful changes, such as the North Face’s partnership with a recycling company to make it possible for you to drop off your worn-out clothes at their stores for recycling; read more about this program here from our awesome friends’ blog Trash Backwards.
Ok, off to sew some buttons!