Thursday, June 26, 2008

Greenify Your Family, Pt. 3

(This is part three of a daily series I am writing on how to have a greener and more frugal home. I will address issues such as food and laundry, offering concrete tools to lower your bills while reducing your carbon footprint. When I am finished, I will give the series a permanent home on my website at

Have you ever wondered how that t-shirt on the Target rack could make it all the way from a cotton field in the Philippines to a factory in Myanmar, all the way to a distribution center and then to your store for a lousy four bucks? It seems like a miracle of efficiency, but really, how many lives were destroyed for that t-shirt? Let's count.

First, corporations buy farm land from farmers in third world countries, then pay workers a pittance to work the land that used to feed several families, now producing just one inedible crop: cotton.

After it has destroyed that community, this cotton is sent to another third world country, where it is processed into fabric by underpaid workers, most of whom have been displaced by their farmland being bought up by governments and corporations. Then to the factory, often in yet another country, where it is made into the actual garment. The clothing is officially 'from' this country. So even a t-shirt "Made in the USA" can be made from slave labor cotton.

The process is the same for synthetics, except they begin in a manufacturing plant, not a farm.

Lives destroyed? I can't even count. We're talking about entire communities. And cotton is hard on the soil; after a decade, even weeds won't be able to scratch out a living. Then the corporations bail and find a new place to exploit. They're not in the business of building strong third world communities; they're in the business of making clothing.

Even if we buy organic cotton, it behooves us to ask, 'organic' by whose standards? Many of these countries are polluted to the point of toxicity. Even if no chemicals are added to crop, it still is drinking polluted water and breathing polluted air. And who is overseeing the organic program of that country? We don't even know where the cotton is grown most of the time, so we can't judge for ourselves.

For $4, this t-shirt made multiple trips around the globe. It's traveled more than Paris Hilton before the tags even went on. If you've seen the gas prices lately, you know that doesn't leave much for wages.

Most of the time, we don't even need the t-shirt. How many people do you know who have clothing with tags hanging in their closets? How many lives were negatively affected for a garment that will never be worn?

This, my friends, is why my family wears mostly used clothing. I try for hand-me-downs (free), but I like thrift stores as well (cheap). So this is another way to cut back on the carbon footprint and the budget at the same time. We're boycotting new clothing until they can give us a little more info on how they got that shirt so cheaply. If even a tiny percentage of Americans joined me, people in important places would start listening.

You're thinking that the thrift stores in your area suck. I hear that everywhere I go. I find nice stuff everywhere I go, too. And sometimes, you just have to let people know that you are open to hand-me-downs. Most people feel weird about offering; I know I do, like I'm implying they are needy or their kids aren't adequately dressed.

If you are worried people will think you're poor, just tell them the $4 t-shirt story.

We're open to hand-me-downs over at the Marshall house, btw. :-)