How to Read Labels to Find Green Clothes
Clothing labels tell you where clothes were made as well as what materials were used. The materials information can give you valuable clues as to how green the production process was. Look for natural fibers that come from plants and animals, such as cotton, hemp, and wool, and aim for those produced organically.
Avoid clothes with synthetic materials. Synthetic fabrics are produced using chemicals, including environmental pollutants, and take a long time to break down in landfill sites. The most popular synthetic materials — nylon and polyester — are made from petrochemicals. Processing petrochemicals into small fibers uses a large amount of oil and energy and emits greenhouse gases. Manufacturing polyester uses a large amount of water as well.
After years during which sustainable clothing materials were the territory of small, often hard-to-find specialty stores, their availability and accessibility is increasing. Purchase clothing made from the following materials:
Bamboo is essentially a grass that grows very quickly, so it’s one of the most renewable materials out there. One caveat, however, is that growers in some areas are replacing native vegetation with bamboo in order to meet the increasing demand.
Hemp is one of the greenest crops because it’s resistant to pests and therefore doesn’t need chemicals to maintain its quality. It’s easy to grow in large quantities and enriches the soil when in the ground, both of which are big bonuses.
Linen is made from flax, which is resistant to pests and grows more easily than cotton.
Organically grown cotton and wool isn’t genetically modified (in cotton’s case), and its cultivation uses natural fertilizers and pesticides and traditional farming practices.
Recycled materials are a green choice for clothing material even though some chemicals and energy likely went into their production. For example, clothes and shoes for outdoor use (especially in wet weather) can be made using recycled polyester, rubber, and even car tires.
Silk is made from the saliva produced by the larvae of several species of moth. (They’re commonly called silkworms, but they’re really caterpillars.) Larvae are a sustainable source of material, but it takes thousands of larvae to produce a silk tie, and some people prefer to avoid silk because it can’t be produced without the death of a living creature.
Soy isn’t just for eating and for candles; it also creates soft, silk-like fabrics when the leftovers from oil or tofu processing are processed and spun into fiber.
The U.S. EPA has linked one of the traditional chemicals used in dry cleaning (perchlorethylene, or PERC) to headaches, cancer, and environmental damage, so avoid dry-clean-only products if you can. Otherwise, look for a dry cleaner that uses environmentally friendlier processes — and definitely not PERC.