The Environmental Impact of: Our Jeans

Photo courtesy goodsociety jeans

If you’re anything like me, then you live in your jeans. Jeans are cool, they’re comfortable, and they never go out of style.

But have you ever given any thought to your jeans’ impact on the environment?

Many people haven’t. But, denim can be surprisingly bad for Mother Earth.

Consider a simple pair of “weathered” or “stone washed” jeans. Jeans are weathered using volcanic pumice stones. These pumice stones have to be mined and shipped to denim companies all over the world. That’s a huge carbon footprint right there.

As that pumice is used to “weather” our denim, it breaks down. Most companies simply put this pumice dust into their local watershed (as Levi’s did, dumping it all into the Rio Grande, in TX). Large quantities of pumice dust pollute local streams and rivers.

Distressing denim also puts small particles of denim and silica into the air, which is then breathed in by factory workers.

Not. Good.

Next, consider how much water denim companies use to wash and reuse those jeans to give that super cool “distressed” look. The Levi’s plant outside El Paso, TX, uses 15% of the city’s water supply. Just for that one plant.

And what about the cotton used to make our jeans? You might be shocked to find out that it takes 1,500 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans. Not to mention all the pesticides and fertilizers that are used to make it grow.

Almost all the cotton grown here in the U.S. is shipped to China once its harvested. China is the world’s leading producer for apparel (including denim). So this transfer of materials back and forth adds to the carbon footprint.

The dyes used to turn that cotton blue is also incredibly harsh on the environment. Tehuacan, Mexico, is one of the world’s largest producers of denim. The city used to be known for it’s beautiful hot springs and canals.

But starting the the ’90s, the denim factories moved in. Now? Now the canals are stained a bright, artificial blue from the dyes. And city residents have to deal with a constant barrage of chemicals in the air, and in their local watershed.

Just because the world is addicted to denim.  According to a report put out by Environmental Health Perspectives, the average American woman owns at least 8 pairs of jeans. Many women own much more.

That’s a big impact on the Earth.

What We Can Do…

We can make a big difference simply by buying used jeans instead of new. Shop at consignment shops and thrift stores. Resist the urge to buy new jeans just because “they’re on sale”.

You can also reduce your jeans’ impact on the environment by washing them less. Yes, jeans start to smell if they go too long between washings.¬†But you know what? If there are no stains on the jeans, stick them in the freezer. Freezers are cold enough to kill odor causing bacteria, and this uses less energy than washing and drying your jeans.

If you do wash your jeans, then air dry them.

In my next post, I’ll be covering several companies that make super cool, eco-friendly jeans. These jeans either use organic cotton, or they’re made from recycled denim. So stay tuned!

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2 Responses to “The Environmental Impact of: Our Jeans”

  1. [...] earlier this week I posted about the environmental impact of our jeans. I hadn’t known how very bad our denim could be on the environment, but after researching and [...]

  2. I don’t know why I can not find jeans the way the used to come, not pre-faded and stone washed etc. I have always thought the stone wash look was a terrible look anyway. I can wear out my own jeans, thank you very much. My inspirational idea was that Levis, or someone, should take the brand new jeans and let very poor people wear them until; they are faded and then exchange them for new ones, and then they could sell those. at the very least I wish I could find jeans the way they used to come, dark blue and hard as a rock. new jeans used to look new. people are idiots.

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