Why are regular blue jeans so bad?

Published by guaro jeans under on 12:18
The answer lies in the production process; in other words what happens before you buy the jeans!

The start of the journey to making a pair of jeans is sourcing the cotton. Cotton provides half of the world’s textile needs, yet contrary to popular belief it is not an environmentally friendly product. Treated with nearly a quarter of all the world’s insecticides, cotton is harmful both to the farmers producing it and the environment. Cotton also requires large quantities of fertilizers, growth regulators, general biocides such as methyl bromide, and large quantities of water. It takes 6800 liters of water to grow enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans - and the average American owns 8.3 pairs of jeans! Just to put this in perspective the UN recommends that people need a minimum of 50 liters of water per day for the most basic needs such as drinking, cooking and sanitation. Millions don’t even have that. Water conservation is an issue for every country in the world and with Climate Change this will only get worse. 21% of the textile industries cotton farming takes place in India, where 70% of the population lives in the countryside. In India cotton only occupies 5% of the farming land but it uses 54% of pesticides. The use of pesticides generates a bad circle of resistance, the pest insects become resident and therefore the use of pesticides is constantly increased.

To become denim, the cotton has to go through a lengthy process. Cotton yarn is typically “sized” with starch to increase its strength for weaving, bathed in oil-derived paraffin to smooth and lubricate it, and, in some cases, “mercerized” in caustic soda, which gives it a worn look. Starch biodegrades, but when dumped in waterways the microbes that eat it also consume oxygen. Aquatic life depends on that oxygen, and starch is just one of many chemical treatments, including dyes, that deplete it. Caustic soda, a key ingredient in Drano, can kill aquatic life and burn workers. These dangerous chemicals are extremely toxic to the people who are using them as well as to the earth.

The nest step, dyeing, is one of the most toxic steps in the making of a pair of jeans. Jeans have a specific tone of blue color, created by indigo dye. Historically, indigo was extracted from plants but today nearly all indigo produced is synthetic, which is often made from coal or oil. In 2002, 17 000 tons of synthetic indigo were produced worldwide. Some factories have machines that precisely measure the concentration of dye in solution, enabling a manufacturer to recycle spent liquid by adding just the right amount of fresh dye. But in developing countries, where water and dyes are cheap and environmental regulations lax, factories without modern equipment often dump the old dye into nearby waterways. Water samples taken downstream from textile have been shown to contain lead, mercury, cadmium, and sele- nium. Local farmers complain of chemically burned seedlings and sterile soil.

The next step is the sewing of the jeans. Due to cheap labor costs, clothing is often made in some of the world’s poorest countries. Many workers in Asia, Africa and South America are exploited and made to work in unsafe conditions, for long hours for little money. Outside of these fabrics the manufacturing excesses and deposits are dumped, leaking out toxins, eroding the soil that these countries depend on.

The last step before the jeans reach our stores is styling. Adding unsustainable details means a mixture of materials creating a big problem, mainly preventing recycling. Brass is used to fashion the zippers, buttons, and rivets found on jeans, and brass is made from copper and zinc. Extracting processing these minerals comes with a whole slew of nasty side effects, from acid mine drainage to air pollution laden with toxic metals such as cadmium and lead. These details is a relic from the time when jeans where used as clothing for workers, only acting as a decorative touch today. The stonewashed vintage look is popular today, which means that the jeans go through a lengthy process after they are manufactured. This could mean bleaching, tearing or coloring using a range of different chemicals.

All these chemicals and toxins added in the production process are leaking from the jeans during the consumer use, washing and end of life. Most salesmen recommend their consumers not to wash their jeans the first couple of weeks, but it actually takes about 3-5 washes to get rid of the worst chemicals stuck in the fabric. This means that the consumer will end up absorbing dangerous toxins and this could result in allergies or rashes. When the jeans are no longer wanted they are probably thrown in the household garbage, most often ending up incinerated or on a landfill.