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Rethinking your wardrobe: How we're extending the life of clothing

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we look at how to extend the life of clothing and the ecological benefits that even the smallest garden can provide.

Also: Even small gardens can help the environment

(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

Hello, people! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • How to extend the life of clothing
  • Climate change is seeping into the White House
  • In praise of small gardens — and how to make them greener

Rethinking your wardrobe: How we're extending the life of clothes

(Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

The apparel industry is one of the most resource-intensive industries in the world. The production of crops and fibres used in fashion is responsible for 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, and it's estimated that 17 to 20 per cent of global industrial water pollution comes from the dyes used to colour clothing.

As consumers, we contribute to this global problem — especially given our love of new clothing. According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, North Americans direct 9.5 million tonnes of clothing to the landfill in 2019— this despite the fact that 95 per cent of those items could be reused or recycled.

Beyond merely seeking more sustainable materials, observers say that we as buyers need to think differently about clothing: what we want to wear and what we do with the garments once they're no longer wearable.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes a circular economy, has written that by "designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems we can reinvent everything."

Signs of such a shift in thinking are already evident. When it comes to extending the life of our textiles, people's attitudes and behaviour are changing on both a small and large scale.

One simple thing is learning to repair existing garments, which is one of the workshops offered under the city of Toronto's Long Term Waste Management Strategy

Individuals are also "upcycling" more, which means taking old garments and repurposing them. Instead of buying new clothes, you can create your own fashionable pieces. In many cases, you don't even need to know how to sew to pull it off. For those who do know their way around a sewing machine, there are endless possibilities: Revamp your old jackets or make a denim skirt out of some oversized jeans

You don't have to stop at creating wearable items. For example, you could take that T-shirt you were going to throw out and turn it into a produce bag.

Value Village and Diabetes Canada take old clothing for reuse and recycling (although there is concern that some of it ends up in landfill), and initiatives such as one in Markham, Ont., will make sure your old textiles are recycled and made into new fibres. (Some even end up becoming insulation in housing.)

The idea of reduce/reuse is also reflected in the growing popularity of clothing rental businesses. The entrepreneurs behind businesses like Rent Frock RepeatReheart it and Fresh Fashion Library have discovered that people are happy to don snappy outfits without feeling the need to own them. And it's not just everyday items — the U.S. company RealReal, for example, offers "luxury consignment items." Founded in 2011, RealReal had revenues of $207 million US last year, and is now trading on the stock market.

— Taylor Logan

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Old issues of What on Earth? are here.

The Big Picture: Flooding in D.C.

During his campaign for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump memorably called climate change a hoax. Indeed, during his time in office, he has attempted to undo many of the environmental protections his predecessor, Barack Obama, put in place. This week, amid flash flooding in Washington, D.C. — which scientists see as a product of a changing climate — the basement of the White House flooded (as seen in the photo below). Whether or not the president still scoffs at the idea of climate change, Mother Nature is already seeping into his house.

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Cognizant of the environmental cost of air travel, Dutch carrier KLM is doing the unthinkable: It's asking people to fly less. Their slogan is actually "Fly responsibly," but the message is that if consumers want to preserve the world for their children and grandchildren, consumers should consider taking the train or teleconferencing when possible.
  • Last week, a group of scientists reported that planting a trillion trees across the globe could be the cheapest and most effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This "solution" naturally excited quite a lot of people, but an undertaking of this magnitude size has many challenges, including land ownership, cost and the potential for more forest fires.

In praise of small gardens — and how to make them greener

(Taylor Logan/CBC)

Following up on our recent stories on alternative gardening, we thought we'd address a challenge for a lot of homeowners: a small backyard. 

How can a small space have environmental benefits, while still being a spot you where can just lounge and chill? Here are some tips and tricks for creating just such a place.

Plant a clover or moss garden. It's easy to grow, with little to no maintenance. Plus, it's soft underfoot. For lawns, plant Dutch white clover. It is low-growing, tolerates close mowing and outcompetes other weeds that can ruin the esthetic of your garden. It requires no fertilizer, little to no watering, not to mention that its flowers will bring bees to your backyard. For shadier yards, consider planting moss instead — no mowing or watering required and good for high-traffic areas.

Grow out small sections of your lawn. Or plant perennials around the perimeter or other areas of your yard. Even a small area of turf-free ground will do some good.

Use the space to your advantage. If you don't want to get rid of a traditional lawn but want to bring wildlife back to your yard, try vertical gardening, hanging potsliving walls or add plants to already existing pergolas.

Planting perennials, tall and thin trees (such as magnolia, cherry, maple or even bamboo) or a garden around the edges of your yard is perfect for people with low foot traffic who want a lower-maintenance, green backyard.

Try replacing all or parts of your lawn with "square-foot" gardens. Through the use of grids, square-foot gardens (typically 122-by-122 centimetres or 122-by-244 centimetres in size) pack crops closely together, creating a high production of food and low production of weeds in a small area. This is ideal for gardeners with limited space and uses only 10 per cent of the water a regular row garden would need, without the use of fertilizers, pesticides or machinery. 

Remember, when it comes to a more environmentally friendly yard, every bit counts.

Taylor Logan

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty


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