NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Jeans > Blue jeans or "green" jeans

logoBlue jeans –
or "green" jeans?

How traditional jeans are made

How we could make environmentally friendly jeans


Growing the fibres
Traditional jeans are made of denim, and denim is made from cotton. Commercial cotton growers usually use large amounts of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Cotton also needs a lot of fertile land; it is often grown in countries where people are hungry, and this land could be used for growing food. Cotton plants also need a very large amount of water.


Growing cotton

It is possible to grow cotton organically, without using chemicals.

And hemp is another plant which can be used to make clothes like jeans. Hemp plants grow easily almost anywhere and do not need pesticides.


Making jeans from HEMP

A PESTICIDE is a chemical used to kill insects and other small creatures that eat crops. A HERBICIDE is a chemical that is used to kill unwanted plants. A FERTILIZER is 'food' that is added to the soil to make better crops.

If you grow a crop ORGANICALLY, you grow it without artificial chemicals.


Denim jeans are usually dyed blue. Every year, thousands of tons of poisonous chemicals are used to make the blue dye. The darker the jeans, the more dye must be used. it is a serious cause of pollution. Cotton grows naturally in many shades of green and brown. There is no need to dye jeans blue.

DYE: (v) to change the colour of something.
(n) a chemical used to change the colour of something.

The textile industry needs energy that is cheap. It also uses more chemicals in the process of making the jeans. We have not found industrial processes that are friendly to the environment. Peoples with lifestyles that do not harm the environment use the things they find around them: they make their own fabrics and use natural dyes.

TEXTILE: cloth or woven material

Traditional jeans have copper rivets and fasteners for decoration. Mining and refining the copper damages the environment.

"Stonewashed" jeans are popular, but getting the special kind of stone for this (called pumice stone) can also cause damage to the environment.

The detergents we use for washing our jeans pollute the water supplies.

In the past, jeans were cheap clothes for people who did hard physical work, like miners. The clothes had to be strong, and so they were made with copper rivets. Today, copper rivets are only for fashion.

Stonewashed jeans are just for fashion, too. If you really want your jeans to look faded, you can scrub them with soap. It's hard work, but it won't damage the environment.

RIVET: a metal fastener

STONEWASHED jeans have been treated so that they have lost some of their colour and don't look new.

DETERGENT: a chemical used for washing and cleaning


Some of the waste fibre and material from making jeans is recycled, or used to make other products, like paper.

However, it is difficult to recycle these materials because of all the chemicals they contain. The chemicals also mean that old jeans do not degrade easily when you throw them away.

You never need to throw your jeans away. If they get holes, you can patch them. When they are very old, you can use them as cleaning cloths, and - if they were made naturally - when the cleaning cloths are very old, the rags can easily be recycled.

DEGRADE:(v) to break down into its natural parts

PATCH: (v) to repair a garment by putting a piece of fabric over a hole

A RAG is an old piece of cloth.

This material is adapted from the article, Green Jeans, in the New Internationalist, June 1998

© 1998: the New Internationalist

NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Jeans > Blue jeans or "green" jeans

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Last Modified: 24 Sept 1999

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