Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Is your wardrobe bad for the planet?

You can have someone come round to the house and tell you.

We begin by analysing everything I've purchased over the past year. With laptop in hand, the screen presents an exhaustive list of clothing types to chose from, from cotton socks to jeans to silk shirts to wool suits. Having been in maternity clothes for 12 months, it's easy enough to remember what I've bought, although I need to think hard when it comes to household linen. I can count on one hand the number of clothes my husband's bought this year, even though he's a style-conscious Italian.

Admittedly, this is what differentiates us from the "average" household where a woman buys 34 new items of clothes a year, a figure that has nearly doubled in the past decade. What makes this possible is that, in that same time, the average cost of clothes has dropped by 36 per cent, with £1 in every £4 now spent on bargain fashion. Retailers exacerbate our obsession with "newness" by producing up to 20 different clothing collections a year. In this constantly revolving carousel, getting on the clothing treadmill has become too easy.

The next part is where I get into trouble. Over the following screens, I answer a rapid-fire set of questions. How many clothing washes do I do a week? About one wash a day. At what temperature? 40 degrees (I don't have a 30 degree setting). How many times do I tumble dry a week? None, we don't even have a tumble dryer. What about ironing? About seven hours a week. Phil gasps...

A couple clicks of the mouse, then a figure appears at the bottom of the screen. Our household EDUs is 1,282. A breakdown shows that our actual clothing EDUs is quite low at 558. But then there's the laundry, which at 724 EDUs is slightly alarming. It includes 324 from washing and a whopping 400 from ironing.

The ironing is what did us in, more environmentally damaging than our washing. "It's like having the kettle switched on for seven hours straight," says Phil. But more shocking, if we add seven tumble-dryer loads a week. The figure more than doubles.