Pre-consumer waste relates to all the processes that convert a raw material such as cotton to the clothing item we buy from the shop. Planting of cotton or hemp for clothing requires land. This means clearing land or taking away areas on which other food crops are grown. The crops, especially cotton, are highly dependent on chemical fertilizer. It is reported that one-third of a pound of fertilizer is required to make just one cotton T-shirt. Most of the processes involved in breaking down natural fibers require water and energy. Additional chemicals are added during the conversion of the fabric to a finished garment. As is apparent, the green clothing we proudly wear do have some environmental flaws.
Alternatively, fabrics produced from organically grown crops use no chemical fertilizer or pesticides or do not use genetically modified material during growing. Clothing made from such fabric will carry certification from the Organic Trade Association that it was processed, transported, and packaged in the most non-toxic manner possible. This is why organic clothing is expensive.
As opposed to organic clothing derived from natural sources, there are also clothes produced from sustainable fabrics. The Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS) has developed the Sustainable Textile Standard against which such textiles can be graded. A sustainable textile can be petrochemical or bio based. It must be produced using environmentally friendly processes throughout the supply chain and be capable of returning safely either to a natural or industrial system. Sustainable clothing, though not natural, can lend itself to green living on account of these factors.
In between organic and sustainable textiles are man-made fibers, which are based on crops such as wood pulp, soy, corn, and flax. These crops require energy intensive processing to convert them to fabrics suitable for clothing. The plus factor here is since they are plant based, they are bio-degradable.
Processes involved in the clothing industry such as harvesting, processing, stitching, and finishing are labor intensive. Some producers use labor practices that infringe on the rights and dignity of workers. We can help stop such abuse by buying clothes that are advertised as produced under fair trade conditions.
Continue reading on page two for more information on eco-friendly shopping.