There’s good and bad news when it comes to the beloved denim:
BAD: A regular pair of jeans is a brew of toxic chemicals that poisons the consumers, the environment and the garment workers
GOOD: You can get a pair of killer jeans without killing the environment or yourself!
Let’s first start with the bad.
These toxins get absorbed by your skin:
Pesticides. Jeans are primarily made from cotton that’s grown using highly toxic pesticides. While cotton barely takes up 3% of agricultural land, it accounts for 16% of all the insecticides and 7% of all herbicides used worldwide. Health effects of pesticides range from skin rash to hormone disruption and cancer.
Heavy metals: The indigo dye, that provides its distinctive blue color is made from a chemical cocktail that begins by extracting petroleum in a highly energy-intensive process and adding such harmful chemicals as cyanide or cancerogenic formaldehyde. Even cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead and copper can be used in the process . These substances have been linked to all sorts of health conditions from mild skin irritation and allergies to reproductive and neurodevelopmental issues and cancer.
Other toxins: After dyeing, fabrics are repeatedly treated with various chemicals and acid-washed, bleached, stonewashed or sandwashed to add a specific sought-after finish e.g. “lived in” or “distressed” look. Phthalates that have been linked to a number of health conditions have also been found in jeans.
Garment workers suffer from severe health impacts
The lion share of textile manufacturing takes place in developing countries with loose or non-existing laws for environment and social protection
- Pesticides can be highly toxic and create a hazardous working environment for cotton farmers. Between 1 and 3% of agricultural workers worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning with at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation each year.
- Health impacts on workers that come into direct contact with the dyes and people that live close to the dirty mills is magnified many times over compared to when simply wearing the “killer jeans”.
People including children suffer from skin, respiratory, reproductive, developmental issues and cancer to name a few
- Applying a specific jeans finish comes with additional health risks
Massive environmental concerns as denim manufacturing is:
- Water-intensive: Cotton is a very thirsty crop – it requires nearly 4000l of water to produce a pair of Levi jeans This is unsustainable given that >10% of people in the world lack access to clean water
- Energy-intensive: Manufacturing a single pair of denim jeans produces 44 pounds of CO2, roughly equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving a passenger car nearly 50 miles.
- Highly polluting: In conventional dye methods, 35% of the color is flushed away with wastewater after dyeing, while only 65% is retained in the cloth. That way the dyes pollute the groundwater, soil and become toxic to fish and some other aquatic life. It is estimated that 70 percent of Asia’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by that continent’s textile industry. Some of the chemicals get transported into oceans, atmosphere and food chains and accumulates in places far away from their original source.
What can you do?
We do love our denim – so much that we buy 2bn of pairs of jeans annually. There’s a way we can express your blue love without harming ourselves, the environment and the workers:
When you do need to buy a new pair, support businesses that produce sustainable, ethical and non-toxic denim. Below I listed brands that have received highest ratings by @goodonyou_app: