Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nudity and sustainability: The cost of clothing on oil reserves, drinking water, and our state of mind

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 2 in a series of posts on sustainability through nudism. Click here for part 2.

Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (New Report, No 4)One of the things I like about Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, is how well it breaks down each item it focuses on. A t-shirt starts out as a huge diamond drill bit, powered by an ungodly amount of diesel fuel, drilling for yet more oil on account of our energy hungry society. Why the oil? Two of the products from the highly-polluting oil refining process go on to be polyester. That polyester is coupled with cotton from highly fertilized fields. The fields are also heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides to eliminate any competition the cotton might have. Finally, right before the cotton is harvested, the plants are all sprayed with a defoliant to get rid of the leaves which would stain the cotton balls in the mechanical picking process. Up to half of these chemicals end up in local streams during application and even more end up there when heavy rains or irrigation leach them from the soil.

Once the cotton has been picked and the seeds have been removed it is shipped to a textiles factory where it is combined with the polyester and spun into yarn. From there it is woven into fabric and finished with a combination of chlorine, chromium, and formaldehyde before being dyed. As much as a third of the dye ends up in the wastewater because cotton resists coloring. These are all regulated toxic chemicals.

This fabric is finally shipped halfway across the world to be turned into t-shirts by women making 30 cents an hour in a Taiwanese factory. It's packed in an assortment of plastic and cardboard before being shipped back across the country where it will sit under the glaring lights of a department store waiting to be bought.

But that's not where it ends. A load of laundry in a conventional washer and dryer will use 40 gallons of water. An extremely energy efficient model will still use 20-25 gallons per load. Add to that the bleach and detergent which goes out with the wastewater and the electricity used to heat the water and then to dry the clothes. Over the life of the shirt, washing it ends up being a larger environmental concern than its manufacture, and that's even consider the amount of packaging and transportation that it underwent

The average household, according the Consumer Energy Center, does 400 loads of laundry per year. Thats as many as 16,000 gallons of water per year. 16,000! Based on the fact that experts recommend drinking 64 oz. (1 gallon) of water per day, the amount of water that the average household uses on laundry in just one year is enough to provide fresh drinking water to one person for almost 44 years. And this is in the face of the fact that our supply of freshwater (less than a percent of all the water on earth) is going to struggle to meet increasing demand as the world's population increases along with the standard of living for many parts of the world.

Am I suggesting that we go around naked? Yes. And no. First, I want to know why we wear clothes.

Of course, there's the practical concerns: protection from the elements. But for those of us who are forced to spend more time than we care to admit indoors, how much of a concern are the elements anyways? For those that do spend a great deal of time outside, the extremes of heat and cold tend to be the biggest concerns. But even then, we should be worried about function. Does it keep me warm, or does it keep me cool? The toxic dyes and chemicals are hardly a necessary component in a functional piece of clothing; clothes have been around for a long time, and the industrial use of these chemicals is relatively new. Even when clothing is practical, current manufacturing process are extraordinarily wasteful.

And those of us that don't need clothing to protect us from the elements 90% of the time? What is our excuse?

Shame. Shame is a big part of it, and a lot of that stems from our puritanical history.

I read an article the other day on a nudist website where a daughter found out that she would have to dress down for P.E. in junior high. She openly refused to do so because she didn't "look like a super model." I remember my own days from junior high and high school. I wore my gym shorts under my pants. I never showered. I never saw anybody else shower for that matter.

This is an era in which we are bombarded by airbrushed super models that inform what we're "supposed" to look like. We are made to fear the ways in which we are different from others rather than celebrating those differences.

The small amount of research that has been done on nudism suggests that children that grow up in nudist families and who interact with other nudist families have a much healthier self-image. It might be by accident that we are teaching children to be ashamed of their bodies, but it is clearly happening.

But, of course, there are always social pressures to don clothing. In Oregon, barring certain local ordinances, nudity is legal so long as it is done without the intent to arouse. There are two nude beaches in the Portland area. And even several nudist resorts. These places allow a person to shed clothes in a noncontroversial and nonthreatening environment.

Better for our self-image and better for our planet? I think we can all afford go naked sometimes. And I'm not the only one that thinks so.

Around your house, when you sleep... whenever you can, be naked. Think about the 40 gallons of water you could be saving for every load of laundry you save yourself from doing. That adds up.

And if you want to join a club, the American Association for Nude Recreation has annual memberships for $24.50 for students ages 18-25 years old, and $57 for adults. This provides discounts at various resorts as well as on services like car rentals... which I suppose is better than owning a car.

I just got a confirmation that my worms are on the way, so stay tuned for my post on making an indoor composter.

Until next time...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 2 in a series of posts on sustainability through nudism. Click here for part 2.

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