Our Clothing Addiction Leads to Cycle of Poverty in Developing World


September 1st, 2017

Revised 9/1/2017.

Our tendency to buy inexpensive clothing when it is barely worn or when “it’s out of style” leads us to support an industry & system that contributes to poverty in many ways…

  • New clothing is sewn predominantly in sweatshops around the world, often by women that are permanently enslaved to pay off a “debt” for the “privilege” of a “well paying” job (NOT).
  • The used clothing business has effectively destroyed native garment industries in much of Africa and other developing countries. American cotton is so highly subsidized that our used clothing can be purchased more cheaply by them than those made with native fabrics and sewn by native seamstresses.
  • Cheap clothing from that is made in the US is, many instances,  made by factories  that hire undocumented immigrants and are not following US law for wages or conditions. http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-fi-forever-21-factory-workers/

“T-Shirt Travels”is a documentary that should make us think twice about the easy fix. If you don’t have time to read the entire article or want to explain it easily to students here is a quick visual. Over time many of the links are disappearing; here is one for the book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” The movie Life and Debt tells of the Free Trade Zone in Jamaica where workers who sew for American corporations earn the legal minimum wage of $30 U.S./week. Sweatshops, with the approval of their governments, offer incentives to foreign clothing designers which are allowed to bring in shiploads of material tax-free and are immediately transported out after sewing. Over 10,000 women currently work under sub-standard work conditions. In order to ensure the employment offered, Jamaica agreed to the stipulation that no unionization is permitted in the Free Trade Zones. When the women attempt to organize they are fired and blacklisted to prevent them from working again. The jobs move on to next developing country desperate for work.

The book Fugitive Denim: a Human and Sensible Approach of Global Textile Trade by Rachel Louise Snyder shares the complex story of the textile trade, now & historically. She traveled around the world speaking with workers and professionals in the trade. United Students Against Sweatshops at 25 universities are now boycotting or severing ties with Russell Athletics/Jerzees until the company re-opens the Jerzees de Honduras facility at full capacity, re-hires all union workers and complete the collective bargaining process. Also, individual initiatives such as Ethix Merch attempt to link small manufacturers with buyers.

A recent problem is the sale of ethnic goods and designs on such sites as Etsy, Amazon and Google. There is both theft of design and underpayment of the workers. Fortunately, some Guatemalan Artisans, with the help of Ethical Fashion Guatemala, are taking them on legally:

“Dillon notes that knowledge of the unique features of Guatemalan craftsmanship — like the fact that genuine weavings don’t contain the color black, as all the dyes are natural and a dark black isn’t achievable — helps identify possible fakes. Knowledge of the artisans’ preferences, like the fact that many have asked that they not be displayed in pictures that show them sitting on the ground weaving on e-commerce sites, helps him identify retailers that may be selling genuine products without maintaining an ethical relationship with the weavers. “

“Using bots to scan for keywords and specific types of images, Dillon locates products on Etsy, Google and Shopify that seem suspect and then reaches out to individual sellers to ask what percentage of profits are passed back to the artisans, what their transparency policies are and more. Sellers who can’t prove that they have legitimate relationships with Guatemalan artisans are then reported to their hosting sites to be removed.”

Make inquiries when native made pieces seem overpriced

Americans consider ourselves to be generous people as we assuage our guilt about buying new clothing by giving away our slightly worn or out of date cast offs to charity but the net effect is a global economy turned upside down. What to do?

  • Worn thin? Goodwill or Salvation Army will turn into rags.
  • Stained? Sew or iron a patch, applique. Tie die the garment – stains get lost in the patterns. Missing buttons, open seams, broken zippers? Fix yourself, or take it to your dry cleaners or find a local seamstress/tailor. Keeps Americans employed at decent wages. If you’re crafty, here are ideas for recycling old Tees .
  • Gained/lost weight? Style dated?  A good tailor can take in or let out seams and can even re-fashion professional clothing to reflect current fashion trends
  • Just itching for a change or something different? Look for clothing swaps online or plan an event with friends

If you must buy new, search out  items made of organic or sustainably harvested fabrics by fairly paid and treated workers.  Green America has links to many online ethically traded clothing items and much more. Be willing to pay more for both American /union/Fair Trade made goods.

The fashion industry itself is just discovering Zero Waste and trying to apply it to the cutting room floor. Parsons New School for design will offer a course in zero waste.

Ethical doesn’t have to mean giving up style. Ethical In Style will send you the latest trends daily via FB or Twitter.

Composting without the Mess


May 18th, 2015

Not everyone has the space, time or interest to maintain a compost pile. Even if you do, those of us living in cities don’t add protein based foods (meat, dairy, fish) to our piles because they attract unwanted rodents and other animals (our chocolate lab finds the pile irresistable). Still trying to figure out if the polyesters bits in dryer lint that I throw in my compost are small enough to be of no harm but was interested that scientists feel that compost cannot yet be generated artificially 🙂

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an environmentally aware community, you may be given the option to separate your plant- and animal-based (bio)waste  for  separate recycling/composting. I have designated “garden compost” and “street compost” containers.

IMG_3052In our renovation 17 years ago had a drawer custom made for garden compost into which goes vegetable matter: waste fruit & veggies, tea bags, floor dirt, old pillow feathers, lawnmower clippings and shredded paper, to name a few. That is now goes daily to my “garden compost”. Great for the plants and I don’t have to pay for it. 

About 5 years ago local residents were  given special covered buckets and encouraged to fill them with all food scraps (I keep the veggie matter for my “garden compost” but put the meat, bones, seafood and food-infused paper products for “street compost”.IMG_3050 IMG_3051I soon replaced the bucket with a commercially available container that seals out bugs and smells. We line the container with bio-compostable bags and place the full bags in a designated streeetside rolling bin, along with our garden clippings, that then go to the municipal composting facility that is able to speed-compost with high heat. 

Even tightly sealed lined containers can be both SMELLY and attracts FLIES. Not to be deterred, our local waste management company, Recology, suggests: 

Sprinkle baking soda if it starts to smell.

Deter flies with citrus, lavender, eucalyptus or lemongrass oils by placing a few drops on a cloth and leaving it inside or on top of the pail. 

If your community needs to come up to speed in the composting arena, contact your local elected officials and ask them adress “compostables waste management” in the next waste management contract cycle. Refer them to Recology or other waste management companies with a good track record on how to implement a successful program.

Sustainable Donations


April 8th, 2014

Environmentalists are generous by nature, desiring to share our good fortune with others. Like me, most of you probably make monetary contributions to a number of causes. I suspect that, like me, your mailbox (at your door or post office) is probably overflowing with requests. Sadly, they come monthly or more and with lots of letters, explanations, envelopes that fill up our trash.

Here are some possible solutions:

1) MY  solution,  is in this letter which your are welcome to copy and send to your favorite organizations. If  many of us do this, perhaps these well-meaning organizations will move in the right direction:

Dear ________,

Please help me be a better contributor and supporter by removing me from your mailing list. Huh? You may ask.

I feel overwhelmed to face a mailbox of multiple ‘begging letters’ each and every day (on top of adverts, bills). I have no time to read yours, much less those from the 25 other organizations to which I regularly contribute.

It is now December and I have received XX requests by mail and countless emails from your organizatin. I have been donating since ____  contributing an average of $__ each year.  Endless letters remind me only that the organization has no idea of who I am. Once or twice year I pull out an envelope and payment form and toss the rest of the contents. The rest of the mailings from you go directly to the recycling, what a horrible misuse of time & resources. Most of my friends will not take the time to audit the charitable requests as I do but I know from speaking to them that they feel the same way and become resentful of constant requests, larger trash bills and wasted trees.

I am a busy person, heavily involved in my family, work and community. At some point in my life I decided that your organization was worthwhile and effective in using my funds wisely. I have continued to contribute without reading any of your subsequent nicely-crafted letters whose stories were ingrained over a lifetime – I no longer need to read them.

This is the computer age. You DO have the ability to track which of your contributors donate and how frequently – if you truly value them, you will care about their contribution patterns, ask them how frequently and in what form (paper or electronic) they would like to receive communications and respond appropriately.  Yes, a few very old ladies have endless hours to read every piece of mail but I, and most others like me, am not one of them.

I, as most contributors, have limited financial resources to meet endless requests. I plan & spread my giving throughout the year; I don’t respond to special or year end pleas. I expect that the organizations to which I donate to do the same financial planning for the year. You must  trust that your thoughtful contributors will not give less because they are asked less frequently. Many of us are donating smaller amounts electronically on a monthly basis so that your budgets (and ours) are less lumpy.

BTW, I am not swayed by name stickers, note pads, medals or member cards – I am trying to simplify my life in many ways –  no one has ever asked to see any of my members cards and my wallet is full already.

This is not a negotiable request.  If mail did not decrease to quarterly or less by ____ ( date 1 year in advance)

This also serves as notice that you may not sell my name, address, email  to any organization for any purpose.

(USE WHEN APPROPRIATE) ( You may not split your organization into two parts to collect twice as much. I am not gullible just because I have a heart.  I give to the original organization, not the offshoot.)

Sincerely,

Someone who thinks highly of your cause


2) Charity Watch has a simpler notice:

FUNDRAISING REDUCTION NOTICE

I am sending this note to reduce the waste and invasion of privacy caused by unwanted mail solicitations and telemarketing calls. If you would like me to consider contributing to your organization in the future, please agree to the following checked items:

___ Remove my name and address from your mailing list.

___ Do not sell, rent, exchange, or give my name or contribution history to any other organization or business without first receiving my approval.

___ Do not send me direct mail solicitations more than ___ times a year.

___ Do not telephone me to ask for money, or…

___ Phone me no more than ___ times a year, and only on the following day(s) and times:

Name and address labels from your solicitation(s) to me are enclosed.
Thank you for respecting a donor’s wishes.


3) Sandra Block at USA Today  suggests intent giving sites such as Network for Good and Just Give which allow you to donate anonymously (there is a 3-4.75% processing fees so your charity doesn’t get the full amount) but that won’t get existing requests to stop.

4) Catalog Choice.org is known as a website that allows you to lower your paper footprint from catalogs but they also work with some of the larger charities to get remove your name from their mailing lists.  It won’t help with smaller and local charities, and not all charities have joined, but it’s a start.

Poop in Your Food? The circle of life


March 12th, 2014

Recently an email came through decrying that produce was grown in human poop and that Chinese suspend chicken wire crates over the fish ponds and the fish with their shit. While this sounds sensational, in truth, human manure was a standard farming nutrient prior to the flush toilet.

I am not overly concerned about chicken poop or people poop – where do people think dirt comes from? it’s worm & bug poop (also known as castings).  The “Circle of Life” is not just a cute song from the Lion King – creatures eat predominantly other creatures – bones, stomachs, poop and all.  Cows & horses poop on the land that grows the grass that they soon graze on.  Human poop starts as food and is simply food that has been burned as fuel or excess nutrients that cannot be fully absorbed at the time.  Allan Savory in his TED presentation establishes how new deserts have been re-established as verdant grasslands by re-introducing traditional cattle herding whereby the droppings both enrich the soil and contain the grass seeds for reseeding.

We need those excess excreted nutrients over and over again each day and they need to return to the food stream through the soil, though a diet entirely of poop is probably not very well balanced and should be mixed with veggie matter for a full-bodied compost.  Composting and percolation through the ground to underground aquifers  (except those exposed to fracking or other underground toxins) exposes excrement to the pro-biotic bacteria necessary to cleanse it for eventual safe reabsorption into plants. The Rich Earth Institute in Vermont does just that with collected urine (rich in nitrogen, phosphorous & potassium) in a [rpcess they  call “peecycling” which is used after it is pasteurized !

That being said,  excrement of sick humans and animals should be contained and kept out of the food stream.

No less an authority than our founding father, George Washington, considered people and horse casting to be more valuable than gold. Though he was many things to our nation, he considered himself, first and foremost a farmer. He studied it, saved seeds, used crop rotations, fertilizers, was intimately knowledgeable about the micro-climates of Mt. Vernon & the 8,000 acres he maintained for his wife’s family around Virginia.  He built lovely “necessaries”, outhouses, throughout his estate from which the proceeds were harvested regularly and encouraged everyone to use them. The farms were extraordinarily prolific and provided all the food for the family and 300 workers.

 

Amish have been recycling their refuse regularly though some municipalities are now requiring them to put in leach beds. 

Columbus GA will soon be selling human waste biosolids to farmers.

 

Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics


February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Cool, Clear Water Not So Simple


April 8th, 2013

 

The cold, deep, fast running water is the healthiest as it harbors the fewest bad bugs and bacteria.

Hello Eco- Mom!
Please explain to me why leaving water running is bad! Fresh water is a limited resource; how does running it and using it end up ruining the fresh water?!
Love, Your Daughter

Hello Wonderful, Curious Daughter,
In order for water to get to your faucet it must first:

  1. Be pumped from  sewers, storm drains, resevoirs to a water treatment plant. Pumping takes lots of electricity
  2. That water must be filtered, stirred (again more electricity) and treated (lots of not so nice chemicals)
  3. Bad stuff from filtering must be lifted out, transported somewhere (more electricity and gasoline to transport to waste disposal site)
  4. Good treated water must again be pumped from the plant all around the city through the water mains (again more electricity)
  5. If you’ve used hot water, there is also the natural gas or electricity used to heat that water that is just going down the drain to no good purpose


20% of energy in the US is used just to pump, clean and filter water. Even if you pour clean water back into the drain it gets mixed up with the dirty stuff and has to be re-pumped and re-cleaned endlessly.

Love,
Eco-Mom

PS. Here’s a wonderful design concept to clean your water at home.

 

I’m recycling more, Why is my trash bill going up?


March 14th, 2012

Closed 1970’s landfill still pollutes this creek in Angola NY

Unfortunately there are few financial incentives for responsible curbside recycling. ZeroWaste is a complex whorl of economic, social and environmental incentives and penalties involving citizens, governments and businesses.

For profits (and some non-profits) have stripped off many of the profitable ends of the business:

  • Waste collection services (WasteManagement, BFI, etc)
  • Waste metal management for large pieces and valuable metals (from the jeweler & dentist to the auto junkyard)
  • Landfills
  • Glass, bottles, cans, cardboard: the reason scavenging in your recycling is discouraged is because your city tries to keep you costs down by selling these. Your city competes with individuals who take them to recycling centers. No easy answers here, many people make ends meet using these strategies.
  • E-waste – stripped down for precious and recyclable metals
  • Concrete
  • Wood and other separable construction waste

 

What is left in municipal waste landfills is the dregs, that has no market and is expensive to maintain with toxic barriers – sadly, the contents of landfills are the most environmentally destructive:

  • Styrofoams, black plastics, non-conforming plastics found predominantly in food containers & wrappings, electronic items shipped from overseas
  • Packaging – wrappers from chips, candy
  • Toxic items – against the law but people do it anyway
  • Mixed material content items, for example:
    • metal shovel w/wooden handle
    • many toys
  • Electronic appliances, tools, toys
  • Plant matter that is difficult to compost – cactus & bamboo
  • Recyclable/compostable materials that some folks are too lazy or unable to separate – milk cartons with attached plastic caps

Did you know that for every one trash can  of non-recyclables that you put in front of your house  that 71 have been put out in the manufacture of the contents of your trash?

That being said, in many cities, business trash has been subsidizing residential trash. Business complains, resident rates rise.

Social Costs:

  • One stream trash systems and single barrel street recycling are less efficient – we lose things such as high-grade white paper that could be recycled in to copy paper (that’s why it’s become more expensive). Hard-core recyclers are rabid because recycling efforts are dumbed down.
  • On the flip side, much more is recycled overall because more residents are compliant
  • Legislators are stuck in the middle trying to please both types of constituents, no one is fully happy.

The only “financial” incentive that I can think of is that your garbage costs would be even higher if you did not recycle. You may force your government to try it out but you may not be happy with the results.

How to change things? Find ways to change or legislate disposal/manufacture of items that typically fill up landfill waste. Make noise at town council meetings, join a committee, talk to your family, friends and neighbors.

Practice the 6 Rs of Zero Waste: Refuse, Reduce, Repair, ReUse, Recycle, Regulate.

Sustainably Spicy


December 30th, 2011

One thing that still remains in my brain from calculus is that the smaller the container, the higher the ratio of container to contents. Once upon a time I could calculate the most cost and weight efficient sized can – who said calculus has no real world applications?

Herb & spice containers jars are low on the container-to-contents sustainability scale. That being said, spices can last many years and they often come in lovely shaped jars and cans. I could not bring myself to throw out the darling A&P spice cans,  a  favorite wedding-shower gift appropriate for newlyweds on a tight budget. I am quite thrilled that there are now so many options for re-filling these containers and the choices are usually less expensive, as well.

Penzey’s (some stores & online) offers 4, 8 and 16 oz bags of their spices with discounts for the larger bags (again less packaging per oz of spice) plastic bags can be recycled at your grocer with other bags; foodies appreciate their quality and wide variety.

Whole Foods and some health grocers offer the Spicely line of boxed (totally bio-degradeable paper & cellophane) spices that fit perfectly in your jars ;(they also donate a % of sales to a children’s charity). Ethnic groceries and the international aisles in the supers offer authentic bagged spices at excellent prices.

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

Sea salt is all we use in our house both because of reduced sodium content and variety of flavors including an option to go local with Pacific sea salt. Celtic Sea Salt was at the San Francisco Green Festival where they offered a special on their salt grinder with purchase of salt.

I’m blessed to live in a climate where I can harvest fresh rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and bay leaf year round – also blessed that they are hardy as I am not the most attentive gardener.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is Everywhere, including your toilet paper


December 21st, 2011

That nice shiny paper that most receipts are printed on? BPA (or BPF) is likely-as-not an ingredient. We slip those recieipts in next to our currency in our wallets, slide our hands over them countless times as we rummage through our purses, pick them up to enter them in Quicken, then one more time to file, trash or shred them.

“When people talk about polycarbonate bottles, they talk about nanogram quantities of BPA [leaching out],” John C. Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry observes observed about carbonless copy papers when he worked at Polaroid. “The average cash register receipt that’s out there and uses the BPA technology will have 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA.” By free, he explains, it’s not bound into a polymer, like the BPA in polycarbonates. It’s just the individual molecules loose and ready for uptake.”

But thats not the end. Those duplicate check records? Carbonless credit card receipts? What if you’re a cashier handling them all day? Touched some food after handling the receipt? Ouch! Of course, many of us recycle those receipts, cool huh? Maybe not, it may be ending up in our recycled toilet paper. Is shredded thermal paper part of your composted fertilizer? Ooops.

Bill Van Den Brandt of Appleton papers point out that his company’s receipt paper (manufactured for NCR) is now BPA-free. This after after a lawsuit (NCR also named) for cleaning up PCB’s from the Fox River in Wisconsin) and subsequent change of ownership to employees.

“Attempts have been made to develop a thermal ink which reduces the problems associated with thermal papers by obviating the need to provide a thermal coating over the whole surface of the paper.” but this technology has not been perfected. I’ve got some receipts I can no longer read (though I really have no idea which technology was actually used).

Another option, the companies, TransactionTree, and AllEtronic emails a receipt to you (instantly) and you have 24 hour access to your receipts through their website. TransactionTree might also email you a retailer discount coupons & AllEtronic will soon have an iPhone app.

As worrisome as thermal printing paper is, the use of BPA in the packaging of many microwaveable convenience food products and canned  foods, is even more so.

The sticking point is actually figuring out which manufacturers still use the BPA method and which stores buy paper from which mfg; data still outstanding. In the meantime, be aware. Don’t put thermal receipts in your paper recycling (or compost). Consider the electronic options, if available. Educate the stores you frequent. Decrease your use of microwaved convenience foods.

BPA, BPF Thermographic Printing in EU

Wine & Weeds: Weed Barrier Tip


December 1st, 2011

We enjoy our California wines and watch pennies buying by the case. Those nifty cardboard dividers are useful for storing glassware of all sorts but I just found a new use in the garden. In dry climates, such as ours, many of us are transitioning to drought tolerant landscaping with native plants. Still, in order for the individual plants to stand out, we need to discourage weeds. Pulling weeds out of dry soil leaves the roots intact so, instead, we can create a light/weed barrier of cardboard boxes topped with wood mulch. (Weeds won’t grow because they lack light). Still, cardboard  is broken where we put in new plants. Watch the video to see how to solve this problem:

You can do a variation with the 4-prong pieces. Break into 2-prong pieces. Fold back one prong on each . Place the center of the inside “V” shape on either side of the plant. Cover with mulch. Voila!