The University of Dumpster Diving

Yesterday was totally awesome. Like all the other days of my weekend, it started as a bit of a downer, but have no fear my fellow readers…it turned out pretty great.

I’ll skip all the boring depressing stuff and dive right down to the good stuff. Literally.

My parents and I went my aunt’s, my mom’s sister’s, house and we had plans to do some dumpster diving later in the day, but my mom wanted to go check out the thrift stores around down town. Originally we were supposed to go see her on Saturday, but that was before all the depressing stuff happened and as part of our plans we were supposed to go check out their recycling center. They’re center was closed, but because this city is so awesome, it has smaller, I guess I’ll call them, sub-centers, throughout the city. They consist of a dumpster for glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum, tin, plastics, but they’re not the actual processing or whatever centers. I’m not sure what the difference is because our ‘center’ in my city is just pretty much the dumpsters and then they take them to other manufacturing plants and whatnots and then those places process them.

My mom likes to dive for coupons in the paper bins, so that’s what we started out doing. That’s how it always starts. And we always look for wine corks and bottle caps around and what we can reach in the bins. Then my aunt got a little excited and she suggested we go to the other mini-center. We did the same thing again, although this time we got a little more adventurous.

And by adventurous, I mean crazy.

In the tin can bin, we found something that we wanted. It was one of those vintage metal suitcases and I’ve seen made into things like tables and chairs and whatnots. I wanted it and when I want something, I get it.

The bins had lids, so the only way in was a pretty small square hole that hit me just above the waist. So with the help of my aunt and my mother, I hoisted myself up and I got pulled myself into the dumpster. This was my first time actually getting into a dumpster. Usually I just lean over the sides and throw the bags around and dig towards the bottom.  The reason for this is simply because I haven’t had the courage to get in there because once you’re seen then there is no possible way to hide what you’re doing and also cause it’s gross. I just hadn’t gotten that confidence to hold my ground quite yet. Well, yesterday was the day that I got it. But also, I guess I should mention that the place was empty when we first decided this was a good idea. While I was tromping around in the bin (which smelled horribly like tuna by the way) making as much ruckus as a bear in a tin can bin, four cars pulled up. Of course, you can’t just say ‘oh, I accidentally fell in to this bin.’ So, I grabbed my suit case and got the heck out of there. I think it was the first time that I actually didn’t care that there was people looking at me. It was fun. It was a thrill.

That was just the first part. We found a wine tasting place and dove for corks which I use for some projects that I’ll eventually have pictures posted for.

Then we went to the university dorms. The same ones that we went to for the first dumpster dive we did.  We found some awesome stuff. I didn’t think we’d find anything besides food since it wasn’t the end of the semester. Let me give you a bit of advice. Never under estimate the wastefulness, ridiculousness, irrationality of young adults.  We found shirts, shoes, notebooks, plastic plates (which my mom had been looking for for a project that she was working on), books, silverware, two pairs of pants and what looks to be a brand new hoody which has the school name on it. I was especially excited about the hoody for two reasons. One, I love hoodies. Two, this school will be my future university for the fall and they’re clothes aren’t usually the cheapest things ever. I think it will probably be too big, but it’s pretty cool anyways.  I said in my last post that I would be on the search for places to dumpster dive for clothes and so I would like this to be my first suggestion. University/College Dorm Dumpsters!


Clothing Solutions: Part 3

Here are those clothing solutions I promised.

First, you can go dumpster diving and get those usable garments that whatever person threw away instead of doing the generous thing and giving them to to someone else. I go dumpster diving as I need stuff and since I don’t often need new clothes, then I find myself at a disadvantage  here. I assume that clothes would send their extra clothes back to their warehouse, but after studying others experiences, I have found that that may not always be true. I would say now that the best place to go would be actual stores. Writing this article has giving me motivation to go and try my hypothesis myself and I shall have my conclusion by the end of the week.

The second thing you can do is to thrift shopping. This I have done and I can say that you can find something excellent finds if you look.

For those who are unwilling to either then the below are so options for you. You can by your things from companies who are doing the right thing or buy fabrics who will have less of an impact on the earth’s health.

Some companies have taken the road less traveled.

The International Standards Organization (ISO) has defined eco-fashions as “identifying the general environmental performance of a product within a product group based on its whole life-cycle in order to contribute to improvements in key environmental measures and to support sustainable consumption patterns.”

One approach has been to use sustainably grown cotton, hemp, bamboo, and other fiber crops that require less pesticides, irrigation, and other inputs. Organic cotton is grown in at least 12 countries. Organic cotton only represents .03 percent of cotton sales.

Another approach is the use of polymers created from plant-based materials. One such material trademarked by Cargill, Ingeo, is made of corn by-products that are fermented and transformed into polylactide. This polymer is spun into fibers and woven into fabrics that, under strictly managed circumstances, could be composted (polylactide, marketed under the name NatureWorks PLA, is also fashioned into wraps, rigid food and beverage containers, coated papers and boards, and other packaging applications). Versace is one of the haute couture designer clothing firms that have used Ingeo in their collections

Other retailers large and small are taking different steps to appeal to the environmentally conscious consumer. Tesco, the largest British retailer, has commissioned a study by Oxford University toward developing a Sustainable Consumption Institute to establish a system to label every product sold by Tesco on the basis of its carbon emission footprint.

Eco-friendly fabrics generally have the following characteristics:

  • Minimum use of chemicals and pesticides
  • Best land manangement practices
  • Sustainable farming practices
  • Eco-friendly certification (i.e. EU-Eco label certification)
  • Animal friendly
  • Production adheres to fair trade practices

Here’s a list of eco-friendly fibers to look out for and also I’ve added a link where you learn more about them. Next time you’re shopping for clothes, look out for clothes that are made from the following fibers (or other eco-friendly fibers):

Hemp – An amazing natural fiber. Some say hemp could have 25,000 uses. Hemp provides enormous benefit to the natural environment. This is true when used in products and when growing the hemp plant.

Jute – Similar to hemp, jute is a type of vegetable fiber used for thousands of years, with outstanding potential for the future.

Ingeo – Trademark for a man-made fiber derived from corn.

Calico – Fabric made from unbleached cotton. Also referred to as muslin.

Hessian Cloth – Coarse woven fabric made from jute or hemp.

Organic cotton – Cotton grown organically (without pesticides etc)

Bamboo Fiber – Bamboo fabric is very comfortable and 100% biodegradable.

Lyocell Tencel® – Brand name for a biodegradable fabric made from wood pulp cellulose.

Ramie – Ramie fibers are one of the strongest natural fibers. Ramie can be up to 8 times stronger than cotton, and is even stronger when wet.

Organic Wool – Organic wool is wool that has been produced in a way that is less harmful to the environment than non-organic wool.

Organic Linen – Linen that is made from flax fiber. Could also refer to be linen made from other organically grown plant fibers.

FORTREL EcoSpun – Fiber made from plastic containers that resembles fleece.

Milk Silk – Silk made from milk

Soy Silk – Silk made from soybeans

Nettle fiber – Made from stinging nettle (commonly known as a weed)

Spider-web fabric – Fabric made from spider webs. Still in the experimental stages.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Clothing Waste Endemic: Part 2

Don’t forget to check back and read my next post Clothing Solutions

Clothes. We need them. Even if nudists, eventually they’re going to want to leave their house and when that day comes they can either get arrested for indecent exposure or they can buy some clothes. What kind of clothes will they buy? Will they buy clothes that with each step of the clothing life cycle they generate potential environmental and occupational hazards or will they choose the road less traveled by making the better decision for the environment?

I guess for some it’s a tough decision. I usually wear t-shirts, jeans, and converses. I don’t pretend to understand what the big deal is about wearing nice clothes. When I have to work, I dress better, but I don’t want to and I don’t like to. Why other people do, I’ll never know.  Some people say it gives them confidence, some say they just like it, whatever the reason, there’s a responsible way to do it and there is an irresponsible way to do it. Most will choose to do it the impractical and therefore irresponsible because that’s what fashion is and by fashion I mean the trendy kind, the kind that lasts like five minutes before you throw out your closet to replace it with something that makes even less sense.

Both globalization and consumerism are the main reasons for our clothing overload. Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices, prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it “fast fashion,” the clothing equivalent of fast food.

The fashion industry is constantly evolving. That creates a couple of problems for both environmentalists and anti-consumerists.

  1. It means that people are always throwing away clothes to make room for new ones. Most people don’t donate their clothes which means they’re just adding the waste in the landfills. According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year, and clothing and other textiles represent about 4% of the municipal solid waste. But this figure is rapidly growing.
  2. As prices and quality of new clothing continue to decline, so too will the demand for used clothing diminish. This is because in the world of fast fashion, new clothing could be bought almost as inexpensively as used clothing. Which means that even if people donate their clothes, it won’t matter because why buy used clothes if you can new ones for the same price? Which means the clothes will just go in the landfill no matter what because there are no people to buy them.
  3. The knock offs of these fashion forward clothes are made from man-made fibers such as polyester. The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and releasing emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride, all of which can cause or aggravate respiratory disease. Volatile monomers, solvents, and other by-products of polyester production are emitted in the wastewater from polyester manufacturing plants.
  4. Cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibers used in clothing manufacture, also has a significant environmental footprint. This crop accounts for a quarter of all the pesticides used in the United States, the largest exporter of cotton in the world, according to the USDA.
  5. Globalization, driven by improved technology and reduced trade barriers is rapidly increasing the connections between people around the world. There are new opportunities to address poverty but also increased awareness of human rights and environmental issues. Many developing countries are offering major manufacturers tax breaks, low cost land and labour to build factories in areas known as Export Processing Zones. This creates new employment opportunities and income for poor families and export income for the country but sometimes working conditions are exploitative.
  6. Much of the cotton produced in the United States is exported to China and other countries with low labor costs, where the material is milled, woven into fabrics, cut, and assembled according to the fashion industry’s specifications. China has emerged as the largest exporter of fast fashion, accounting for 30% of world apparel exports, according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics database.
  7. According to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions.

The Manufacturing provides a whole other set of problems.

  1.  Dyeing alone can account for most of the water used in producing a garment; unfixed dye then often washes out of garments, and can end up colouring the rivers, as treatment plants fail to remove them from the water. Dye fixatives – often heavy metals – also end up in sewers and then rivers.
  2. Cloth is often bleached using dioxin-producing chlorine compounds.
  1. And virtually all polycotton (especially bedlinen), plus all ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, ‘permanent press’ cotton, are treated with toxic formaldehyde (also used for flameproofing nylon).


Clothing Materials With Issues: Part 1

Big companies care only about making money. They may take steps towards more environmentally friendly practices, but only if there is some benefit in it for them. The bottom line is that the responsibility for the decision rests solely with the consumer. If you don’t buy it then they won’t sell it.

So, what can you do? A good place to start is to know what the kinds of fabrics are and why not or why they’re harmful for the environment. There is so much information on this subject that I could have done multiple posts. I hate to complain about problems without giving solutions, but it was way too long to do just one post so I’ve divided it into three. The solutions fabrics that actually are good for the environment won’t come until the third post.  It will take a bit more effort to get these fabrics and products that are made from it, but it’s something that I think is worth it. Check back and read Clothing Waste Endemic.

Different fabrics have different impacts, depending on what they’re made of:

Nylon and polyester

Made from petrochemicals, these synthetics are non-biodegradable as well, so they are inherently unsustainable on two counts. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Making polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants which can become a source of contamination. Both processes are also very energy-hungry.

Rayon (viscose)

This is another artificial fiber, made from wood pulp, which on the face of it seems more sustainable. However, old growth forest is often cleared and/or subsistence farmers are displaced to make way for pulpwood plantations. Often the tree planted is eucalyptus, which draws up phenomenal amounts of water, causing problems in sensitive regions. To make rayon, the wood pulp is treated with hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid.


Natural fibers have their problems, too. Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world : these pesticides injure and kill many people every year. It also takes up a large proportion of agricultural land, much of which is needed by local people to grow their own food. Herbicides, and also the chemical defoliants which are sometimes used to aid mechanical cotton harvesting, add to the toll on both the environment and human health. These chemicals typically remain in the fabric after finishing, and are released during the lifetime of the garments. The development of genetically modified cotton  adds environmental problems at another level. Organic Cotton is quite another matter.


Both agricultural and craft workers in the UK suffer from exposure to organophosphate sheep dip.

Manufacturing processes

Getting from fibre to cloth – bleaching, dyeing, and finishing – uses yet more energy and water, and causes yet more pollution.

  1. Dyeing alone can account for most of the water used in producing a garment; unfixed dye then often washes out of garments, and can end up colouring the rivers, as treatment plants fail to remove them from the water. Dye fixatives – often heavy metals – also end up in sewers and then rivers.
  2. Cloth is often bleached using dioxin-producing chlorine compounds.
  3. And virtually all polycotton (especially bedlinen), plus all ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, ‘permanent press’ cotton, are treated with toxic formaldehyde (also used for flameproofing nylon).

Other materials used in clothing and shoes include:

  • Leather (with polluting tanning and dyeing processes, as well as intensive farming impacts and animal rights issues).
  • PVC– a notoriously toxic material.
  • Harmful solvents – used e.g. in glues and to stick plastic coatings to some waterproof fabrics.