The health bonus of no-shopping: reduced chemical exposure

Last year’s resolution of not shopping any clothes brought many benefits: saving money and the environment, reducing waste and getting a closer, more personal relationship to my closet. There is one aspect, though, that I have thought less about but that I was lately reminded of: reduced chemical exposure. It might even be one of the more important benefits of not shopping.

We all have hundreds of chemicals in our blood, many of which are hormone disrupting. And this is in Sweden and the EU where we at least have the REACH chemical regulation. The US has much less regulation, which is discussed in the documentary STINK (can really recommend this documentary, there is a lot of useful information in it).

New clothes are made, dyed and treated with chemicals and these chemicals can end up in our blood stream with serious effects. We were recently reminded of this fact by the H&M burning-clothes scandals (but it applied to numerous other brands too!). One of the reasons the companies are burning seemingly good clothes is because they contain harmful levels of chemicals and substances. Although it is in fact good that we are not sold these items, it is a reminder of the fact that such chemicals are in the clothes at some level. One could question why the companies do not simply remove these harmful chemicals from the production, as our minister for the environment did in the H&M reportage.

One way that chemicals, such as triclosan, gets into our bodies is thus through clothes. I remember buying a pair of jeans some years ago that smelled terribly, “I smell like a walking pool #toxicfashion” I tweeted. I washed the jeans and continued wearing them despite the lingering smell. If I had known what I know now, I would have understood that the smell could be chemicals that would end up in my body and do damage there. I would have returned the jeans to the store.

In the STINK documentary, the story starts similarly with a pair of smelling pyjamas. However, unlike me, the father in the movie realises not only that it’s a sign of chemicals but also that these might be really dangerous to his kids. His wife has recently died in cancer so he realises that some of these chemicals could even be carcinogenic (spoiler alert!- they are).

The obvious benefit with not shopping is that you are not introducing new items and their chemicals into your wardrobe and to your body. If you also consider more environmental friendly washing options (for example avoiding dry cleaning), this will reduce an overall chemical exposure. Shopping second hand, for example for your child, has similar benefits because the clothes have been washed already multiple times which should reduce the chemical content.

One aspect the STINK documentary does not discuss, and which thus is a weakness from a sustainability perspective, is where the chemicals used in production and that result from when we wash our clothes end up: in the environment and in our waters. But I guess you cannot tell all in one and a half hour.  This part of the story has also been brought up elsewhere, for example in the True Cost movie.

A year of no shopping, then what?

It’s been almost 10 months of no shopping and even if I’d wish to, I cannot continue another year without any shopping for my wardrobe at all. There are areas in my wardrobe where there are true needs. Mending, especially the tricks I’ve learnt from Wornvalues, has taken me through the year but after a year of mending my wool stockings I will have to buy new ones next year (anyone can recommend a sustainable brand?).  I also think I could use another pair of boots. One of the benefits of not shopping at all is that you identify needs this way, you discover what you really do wear out.

Still I don’t want to go back to my previous state of buying whatever I feel like as long as it is sustainably produced. There are too many items in my wardrobe. Fashion Revolution & Greenpeace claims that global clothing production has more than doubled since 2000 and that we do not use 40% of the clothing that we buy. I don’t want that to be me.

So lately I have been considering how I will approach my wardrobe, shopping and making next year.  After a lot of thinking, there seems to be a very simple solution. I can follow the ‘buyerarchy’ by Sara Lazarovic (to the left). So this will be my ambition for next year. Whenever there is a need, I will consider first if I can use what I have, borrow, swap, thrift, make or buy, in that order.

There were two other issues I wanted to think about this year during the Slow Fashion October: plastic pollution from textiles and second hand shopping. In terms of the plastic issue, my policy will be to not buy clothes, fabric or yarn with plastic fibers in it (polyester, elastane, lycra etc.). The exception will be recycled plastic fibre (for example for stockings) if necessary. For the clothing I already own with plastic fibers, I’m buying a Guppy Friend bag to wash them in so that they don’t release plastic into our waters.

In terms of the second hand shopping, there will be instances where I will pass over thrift in the buyerarchy and go directly to make. I do think that making new clothing for example out of old garments or left over fabric (what I call second life sewing) is even more sustainable than thrifting clothing. Anybody can buy clothes in the charity shop but making my left over fabric useful, only I can do this.

I also think that my no-plastic policy will make second hand thrifting more difficult. There are so few plastic-free garments out there (although of course there are some). This is also a good reason to keep knitting, as I already do, in non-plastic sustainably sourced yarn. However, knitting is also a lot of fun, so to try to avoid over-production (which after two years of knitting is starting to be an issue) I will try to be even more mindful of how I choose projects. Taking on knitting projects that take a lot of time will be a priority, thereby slowing down my making even further.

Looking forward to a new year and, hopefully, an even more thoughtful wardrobe approach.


Plastic pollution: what we can do about it

There’s been a lot of talk about plastic in the news lately. There are at least three reasons to be very concerned about the plastic pollution.

Animal welfare. Plastic is filling the oceans and researchers estimate that if this development continues, there’ll soon be more plastic than fish in the ocean.  In fish and shellfish, plastic is found in one out of three. We recently heard about the whale that died because its stomach was filled with plastic. Surprisingly, the animal right movement is not doing much on the issue.

Human health. In our turn, when we consume fish and other seafood  this plastic accumulates in our bodies. Scientists have not yet studied the consequences on us.

Resource use. Plastic is not all bad. There are occasions when plastic is absolutely needed and where we don’t have a good alternative yet, for example in health care. However, most of our plastic use is for one time purposes like packaging, cups and cutlery. Basically, we should save plastic, a non-renewable source, for when it is absolutely needed.

Although we could wish that our policymakers were looking out for us, in the meantime, there are a lot we as consumers can do about plastic pollution:

  • Choose natural fibres and textiles. Plastic fibres are released into our waters when we wash polyester/acrylic/elastane garments at home. Scientists have concluded that such everyday washing is a bigger source of plastic pollution than the microplastics in skincare.
  • Choose plastic free skincare without mineral oil and microbeads. Look out for PE, PET, PP, PVC, PS, PVA, PMMA and PTFE.
  • Avoid plastic bags. Our grandmothers carried shopping nets with them when they we’re out and about because our convenient plastic bags didn’t exist.
  • Avoid plastic bottles. Glass is better but best is of course to refill your own bottle.
  • Avoid one time cutlery, packaging and cups. In Sweden, only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled. The zero waste movement offers a lot of inspiration on how to avoid unnecessary plastic waste.
  • Don’t throw cigarette butts on the ground, the filter contains plastic and is a threat to wildlife that may mistake it for food.
  • Recycle your plastic and turn in old plastic. Regulation of new plastic has improved but a lot of the old and toxic plastic is still in use.

Do you have another favourite trick for reducing plastic pollution? Please share it with us in the comments!