FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Take a Holiday…From Clothes Shopping

by STAN COX

A deep recession — or worse — is in the holiday forecast, but belt-tightening doesn’t have to ruin the festive mood. Here’s one painless way to cut expenses while giving the planet a much-needed break: Resolve not to buy any new clothes — not even a tight new belt! — for anyone for a whole year, starting now.

Don’t worry about disappointing family or friends. Christmas after Christmas, polls show that clothing, the most popular present among givers, is also ranked as the “most disappointing gift” by those on the receiving end.

We’ve already stockpiled enough clothes to last us for years. The average annual shopping haul swelled from $1,550 per household in 2002 to $1,760 last year. That spending spree was prompted in part by what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says was a 30 percent drop in real apparel prices over the past decade. With cheap imports allowing a dollar to buy more, the physical bulk of garb purchased by the average household has risen 18 percent in just five years.

In America, even in hard times, anyone can be a power shopper. Our national cheap-clothing policy means you can fill your closets to bursting, even if you’re not a major-party nominee on a $150,000 budget.

And with a constant need to free up closet space for new purchases, the average American discards 68 pounds of clothing and other textiles each year, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Although 10 million tons of unwanted duds per year puts pressure on U.S. landfills, it’s the origin of the clothes that does the greatest harm. Production of synthetic fabric consumes petroleum, blows out greenhouse gases and spews wastewater bearing organic solvents, heavy metals and poisonous dyes and fiber treatments.

Conventional cotton clothing also comes at great cost. Grown on less than 2 percent of U.S. farmland, the cotton crop accounts for one of every four pounds of pesticides sprayed, Agriculture Department figures show. Things are worse in the global south, where cotton accounts for half of pesticide use.

To curb the soil erosion for which cotton land is infamous, no-till methods have been introduced on a large scale. But they require heavier spraying of herbicides.

The United States brings in more clothes than the next highest nine importers combined. And by allowing our spinning, weaving and sewing jobs to go to Asia and Latin America, we’ve exported a big pollution problem as well.

Dye effluents often carry toxic metals, among them copper, cobalt, chromium, nickel, zinc, lead, antimony, silver, cadmium and mercury. Bleaching the cloth for a single shirt generates as much as 15 gallons of chlorine-polluted wastewater.

Chemicals used in the industry, including anti-wrinkle compounds, can be carcinogenic. In 2002, Italian and American researchers found that risks of nasal, bladder and gastrointestinal cancers among spinners, weavers and dyers were elevated 28 to 126 percent.

“Green” apparel makers are riding to the rescue but getting lost in a stampede. According to the nonprofit trade association Organic Exchange, the global market for organic cotton clothes grew by $1.4 billion—700 percent—from 2001 to 2007. But in the same period Americans alone increased spending on conventional clothes by $29 billion. Like it or not, virtuous-clothing companies are adding to the bulk jamming the nation’s collective closet, not replacing it.

Yes, I know. If Americans started buying just enough new clothes to fit our basic needs, we might deliver a coup de grace to the already crippled retail economy (and thrift-store racks would be stripped bare). But wouldn’t it be great to emerge at the other end of the coming hard times with a new, more rational economy, one that isn’t addicted to selling mountains of stuff that people don’t need or even want?

To paraphrase a retail giant’s slogan, we could save money, live better and spend less time on the consumption treadmill simply by not buying so many clothes. That would make for a real holiday bargain.

STAN COX is a senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas and author of Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine (Pluto Press, 2008). He can be reached: t.stan@cox.net

This column was written for the Prairie Writer’s Circle, a project of the Land Institute.

 

 

 

 

Stan Cox is a senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas and author most recently of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing (The New Press, 2013). Contact him at t.stan@cox.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail