Mitzvah Moments - September 2011
Back-to-school shopping is a great time for Mitzvah Moments. Often buying earth-friendly clothing doesn’t cost a lot more than conventional items. Clothing made from sustainable and eco-friendly fabrics including organic cotton, linen, hemp, and soft, silky bamboo are fashionable, comfortable, and show your concern for the environment and for the people who farm the crops that make your clothes and the people who produce them.
Non-organic cotton depletes the soil and pollutes our waterways. Cotton, the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world, accounts for 25% of all pesticides used. The USDA estimates cotton uses more than 50,000,000 lbs. of pesticides in the U.S. annually (one T-shirt uses ¼ lb).
Pesticides also greatly affect the health of agricultural workers. Also, many clothes are produced in sweatshops, both here in the U.S. and abroad. As more of our clothes are produced in developing countries, buying Fair Trade insures that those making them receive fair compensation and have safe working conditions, whether they work abroad or in America.
One local company, Santa Rosa-based Indigenous Designs (707-571-7811), is a distributor of organic and Fair Trade clothing. Local outlets are for their clothes are Zizi and Arboretum in Healdsburg, Dressers in Sebastopol, and the Calistoga Ranch and the Sea Ranch Lodge. You can also buy their clothing online at http://www.indigenousdesigns.com. Look for fliers, mailers and ads for their occasional sample sales or sign up on their Facebook account for updates on sample sales and discount codes.
Also look for organic women’s clothing and underwear from Garberville-based Blue Canoe, whose clothes are sewn in San Francisco, and socks leg and arm warmers made from recycled yarns by Rockin Socks of Willits.
Although they don’t have quite the same commitment to social responsibility, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest provider of organic cotton––ten million pounds’ worth in 2006––and J.C. Penney’s Simply Green line sell locally. Many companies, including REI, also carry environmentally friendly clothing.
Another way to buy earth-friendly clothing is to buy “repurposed” (used clothing) at local boutiques and consignment stores, thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and through classified ads and clothing “swap” parties” (Google “clothing swap party” for lots of how-to ideas.) Repurposed clothing has an almost zero carbon footprint compared to new clothing, which requires more than just the energy to make it or transport it. Every step of manufacture from land and water use, chemicals used, waste generated, and energy used in the retail outlet has to be figured into the carbon footprint. A second-hand item obviously has a much smaller footprint.
I also buy clothes from Global Girlfriend, a cooperative of disabled and economically disadvantaged women in India, through the Hunger Site, www.thehungersite.com. By the way, this website, which allows you to contribute to a number of charities with just the click of a mouse—literally a “Mitzvah Moment”—recently added the VeteransSite.com, where your clicks help feed homeless veterans, and the AutismSite.com to help fund therapy for autistic children, to their other six charities.
Be eco-friendly when packing school lunches, too. Our addiction to “convenient” lunch products results in tons of trash ending up in landfills each year. According to the EPA, the average American school-age child throws away 67 pounds of lunch waste a year. That’s over 4.6 billion pounds of waste a year that could be easily avoided.
An estimated 40 billion non-biodegradable plastic utensils are used every year in the U.S.; most of them are thrown away after one use. An estimated 2.81 million juice boxes were sold in the U.S. in 2006; most of them can’t be recycled. Plastics such as those used in cutlery, straws, bottles, baggies and plates, don't biodegrade; they photo degrade—breaking down into smaller toxic fragments that contaminate soil, waterways, and animals who digest them.
Creating a waste-free lunch kit is smart, and one of the easiest ways to reduce your consumption of use-and-toss items, while saving money. Look for reusable containers, thermoses, and utensils at stores such as Whole Foods and REI. For more ideas and great products, including reusable sandwich wraps and napkins, go to http://www.reuseit.com/. This company has empowered over 250,000 customers to eliminate nearly one billion use-and- toss items, and they donate 1% if their profits to environmental causes.