Green Jeans

Environment

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The lifecycle of an icon - or how to turn your blue jeans green...

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Growing
Cotton – from which denim is made – uses enormous quantities of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, irrigated water supplies and a large chunk of fertile land in some of the world’s hungriest countries.
Organic cotton cuts out the chemicals; hemp grows almost anywhere without the need for pesticides.
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[image, unknown] Dyeing
Every year, thousands of tons of deadly toxins go into producing synthetic indigo, the shade of blue in jeans.
The darker a dye the more toxic it is, so indigo is a major pollutant.
Cotton can grow naturally in most shades of green and brown, eliminating the need for dyeing altogether.
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Weaving
Industrial textiles need cheap energy and chemicals for the spinning of the thread, the weaving and treatment of the fabric and the application of special finishes.
‘Green’ industrial methods remain to be developed and may be a contradiction in terms – people who tread lightly on the earth still spin, design and weave their own fabrics from local fibres and dyes.
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[image, unknown] Styling
The extraction of pumice for ‘stonewashing’ lays waste to the places where it takes place, as does the mining and refining of copper for rivets and fastenings. ‘Bio-active’ detergents for domestic washing pollute water supplies.
Faded jeans are fake and rivets are a fad, no longer necessary to strengthen a garment originally designed for miners. Scrubbing with soap is laborious but a genuine way of ‘customizing’ if you must.
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Dumping
Some waste cotton fibre, thread and fabric is recycled by the industry or used in other products such as paper. But chemical treatments make the fibre difficult to recycle and less bio-degradable.
Jeans need never be thrown away. Patched or bought second-hand, they can be used until the fibre disintegrates – when the rags can be recycled.
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Illustrations by ERIC JONES

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mag cover This article is from the June 1998 issue of New Internationalist. You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial now »

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