Welcome to 2018 eco-warrior fashionistas! The good news is that every year we get a little bit closer to the possibility of living a sustainable, green and eco-friendly lifestyle. Fashionista or just basic-necessity shopper, it is time to grow up and collectively address the elephant in the room, which is the huge environmental footprint of cleaning and maintaining our clothes.
We don’t really think too much about the impact of keeping our clothes clean, but when you break it down, maintaining clean clothes sucks up valuable natural resources like clean water and energy. And as conscious eco-warriors, we have a responsibility towards the way we go about doing that.
Many of our garments are ‘wash and wear’ and can be cleaned in a washing machine or washed by hand. Some of our ‘special’ garments, however, come with a pesky and scary ‘dry-clean only’ label, which is scary for multiple reasons we will discuss later on in the series.
Overall the goal is to find less chemical-based, less energy-intensive processes that will holistically reduce our environmental burden. Small behaviour shifts around everyday practices like stain removal techniques and how we dry our clothes can also turn us from being environmental laundry terrorists to being conscious and helpful fashionistas.
Here are some handy tips to help you do green & clean laundry:
1. Control the quantity of water you use:
The first thing you need in an eco-friendly wash is to control the quantity of water you use. If you’re using a washing machine, you must opt for one that is energy-efficient and water-efficient. Hand-washing is always preferred but you may not have the time to do it or you may not trust the rigour of someone else’s hand-wash for heavily soiled garments, which is understandable. Therefore, make sure your washing machine is optimized for a greener wash.
2. Use low-phosphate detergents:
The second thing you need is a laundry detergent that doesn’t release pollutants into the water bodies. Most detergents contain phosphates, one of the things that turned Bengaluru’s Bellandur Lake into a toxic-soup. Phosphates sadly are being released in high volumes on a daily basis into water reserves all over India with every wash that happens.
Thankfully, Bengaluru residents are leading the charge in having the Indian government also regulate the level of phosphates in detergents. In the meantime, the best alternative for all of us is to be aware and shift to a non-toxic detergent or an all-natural laundry solution such as reetha powder.
What are Phosphates & why should we know about them?
Phosphates are one of those things that started out as really useful in theory, but in practice they needed to be handled carefully and then they just went out of control. Phosphates had good intentions, they were meant to remove the hardness of water for a more efficient wash. They are biodegradable and can be assimilated by soil microorganisms, but the catch is that when they are released into large water bodies they end up acting as a nutrient for blue-green algae, causing it to grow in excess.
Now, what is Blue-Green Algae you wonder?
Blue-green algae, also known as Cyanobacteria, are a group of photosynthetic bacteria found in natural water bodies. Too much blue-green algae growths can clog rivers, restrict light and oxygen availability to other aquatic life, in a process known as “eutrophication“. This kills aquatic life and can also make the water toxic for humans, a huge negative fall-out just for doing some laundry. Phosphates in practice, therefore, are not considered eco-friendly and are restricted by law in some countries.
The biggest step toward a truly eco-friendly laundry would be the way grey-water and waste-water are treated once you are finished washing your clothes. More often than not, you are at the mercy of the municipality and have to live by their level of responsibility, which may be slow or even nil.
In India, our used water or waste-water is released untreated into sewers and eventually into water-bodies, replete with chemical pollutants and all. So until we have better waste-treatment facilities in place it is our responsibility, as conscious-consumers, to safeguard what we send down the drains!
The next part of this series will take a look at what’s available for you in the market in the all-natural laundry product range. And while it seems daunting and like one person’s effort won’t really make a difference, just know that small adjustments in human behavior do really add up to something big over time. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it all – the 2% rule applies here – every little bit counts as an improvement.