Greenwashing Post

What is sustainability? Are products sustainable?

The Greenwashing slides got me thinking about sustainability. Sustainability is the ability for biological systems to remain sustained indefinitely by maintaining long-term ecological balance.

A large majority of products in the US are wasteful. For instance, this morning I was out for breakfast with my parents. Most of the items on the table were disposable: from the mini creamers to straws in individual wrapping, to the sugar packets and napkins. These items are meant to be thrown away after one use. Some of these things might have been recyclable but there are many products which are not. For example, how do you recycle a juice box? Do you put it in paper? Aluminum? Plastic? All three of these materials are merged together. A juice box is a product that was not meant to be recycled.

One consumer item, not directly related to health, but largely impacts it is fashion. The US has a huge fashion industry and the average consumer household spent $1,786 dollars in 2014 on apparel.  The fashion industry is the 2nd largest polluting industry due to textile waste, chemical dumping, and pesticide use. The factor which drives the pollution numbers up is fast fashion, that is, mass-produced, low-costing clothing which imitates current runway trends. This style of fashion has promoted frequent consumptions and the idea that clothing is disposable.

In 2013, the fashion industry generated 15.1 million tons of textile waste. A whopping 12.8 million of this was thrown out the same year it was purchased. But pollution does not start when the product is thrown away, it starts with the pesticides used to grow cotton (and other crops.) The fashion industry relies on heavy pesticide use to keep up with the disposable fashion industry. Pesticides have been tied to many health and environmental issues.

In addition, the high demand for cheap leather has let city’s like Kanpur in India exposed to dangerous conditions. 50 million liters of toxic waste are poured every day into the local trainers which flows into farmlands and wells. Kanpur and other cities like it have widespread severe health issues ranging from skin diseases, boils, numbness and various types of cancer. I find these numbers scary. What makes it worse is that most textile waste is not biodegradable and sits around in dumpsites emitting toxic chemicals for years.

With many consumers now asking for more sustainable options, greenwashing has become rampant in the fashion industry. For example, H&M World Recycle Week seems like an eco-friendly practice, however, in reality, it would take H&M over 12 years to recycle just 48 hours worth of donated clothing.

Companies often have misleading statements regarding eco-friendly practices and consumers struggle to make informed purchases with all the misinformation available. Melissa Joy Manning, jewelry designer and co-chair of CFDA Sustainability committee said, “Everyone now says eco, they say environmentally friendly, sustainable, its ‘Made in the USA’…but it’s like peeling an onion, when you pull back one layer of skin there’s so many underneath.” To add to the misinformation, companies can simply buy sustainable certifications for $30,000-$50,000 dollars.

I would highly recommend checking out the video “The Story of Stuff” which looks how unsustainable our current system is and the various health, social and environmental impacts it creates.

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