Today is Earth Overshoot Day 2018

Each year, our planet’s ecosystems produce and purify an abundance of resources: food, water, fibre, timber and more.  And each year, humanity consumes resources to sustain itself.

The good news: until 1970, the planet always produced more than we consumed each year.

The bad news: sometime around 1970, humanity’s ever-increasing appetite for resources exceeded the planet’s production capacity, so we started drawing down longstanding reserves like forests, fish stocks, topsoil and more.

Earth Overshoot Day is the day each year when we’ve consumed all that the planet will produce that year and we start dipping into those reserves.  For 2018, Earth Overshoot Day is today.  It’s the earliest ever.  Put another way, this year we will use the equivalent of 1.7 Earths – except we only have one.

So what to do?

  • Learn more about the causes of overshoot at the Global Footprint Network
  • Check out your Country Overshoot Day (IE the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in your country)
  • Tune into a Livestream at overshootday.org at 1 PM Atlantic time/12 noon Eastern time today to learn how we can reverse our consumption trend and begin to move Overshoot Day later in the year
  • Examine your own lifestyle: calculate your own footprint at footprintcalculator.org (it’s quick and easy), and receive a list of specific ways you can reduce it
  • Share your commitment by pledging actions here (and perhaps the most important actions of all are lobbying political leaders at all levels and voting wisely)

With commitment and focus, surely we can move Earth Overshoot Day back into the future!

Are fabric softener dryer sheets a good idea?

True story from last week: after discovering a massive mouse nest in our car’s heating ductwork, our mechanic suggested we put a few fabric softener dryer sheets in the car to keep mice away in the future.  It made me wonder: if dryer sheets repel mice, is it wise for us to use them on the clothing?

Dryer sheets soften clothes, reduce static cling and make our clothes smell nice.  The heat of a dryer activates the chemicals on the sheet, which then coat your clothes through the tumbling action of the dryer.

However, a few things to think about:

  • What we feel as softness is simply the chemical coating of the dryer sheet rubbed onto our clothing during drying; it makes clothes feel slippery. Nice to touch, but that also means our skin is exposed to that same chemical (‘quats’) as we wear those soft clothes.
  • Most dryer sheets contain fragrances, a broad category of synthetic chemicals that may be proprietary and hence not necessarily further identified.
  • By design, chemicals in dryer sheets are activated by heat and become airborne – making them easy to smell, but also easy to inhale.
  • Chemicals in dryer sheets are known to cause skin irritation in some people, and to cause or trigger asthma attacks.

Liquid fabric softeners have less environmental impacts, but only marginally: they increase the flammability of certain fabrics, and end up in wastewater.

So what to do?

  • If you have one, use a clothesline instead of a dryer; you’ll get outdoor freshness without any cling, and you’ll save on your power bill
  • Don’t overdry your clothes; clothes only get static cling after they are totally dry, and a tiny bit of moisture prevents that
  • Add a quarter to half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washer as a natural softener (and no, your clothes won’t come out smelling like vinegar)
  • Try wool dryer balls: they separate clothes in your dryer, reducing drying time. You can buy them or make your own.  (But I’m reading mixed reviews on whether they reduce static cling as often claimed…)

As for me, I’m using the precautionary principle and siding with the mice: we don’t use fabric softener dryer sheets in our home.

Wash less, wash gently, wash cold

The maintenance (IE cleaning) of our clothing has some significant environmental impacts:

  • Soap, which has a manufacturing and wastewater footprint
  • Hot water, which makes up 20% of a typical home’s energy consumption (that’s all uses, not just clothes washing)
  • Drying: conventional clothes dryers use more power when running than anything else in a typical home – about 4000 watts, equivalent to over 400 standard LED light bulbs

Plus clothes wear out faster when washed more.  Plus there are impacts of microfibers shed by synthetic fabrics during washing; plus fabric softener impacts (to be the subject of Part Three); plus dry cleaning impacts (to be the subject of Part Four).

So how can we minimize the environmental impacts of cleaning our clothes?

  • Start by washing clothes less; dare to wear them more than once if they’re not noticeably dirty (or ‘fragrant’!)
  • Wash full rather than partial loads
  • Wash clothes in cold water using as short and gentle a cycle as possible (and this study suggests doing so can quadruple the life of clothes)
  • Use as little detergent as you can get by with; ‘overdosing’ is a common problem, abetted by those generous measuring cups typically supplied with laundry soap
  • Choose concentrated detergent over regular (lower packaging and transportation impacts); or switch to Dizolve strips, which have the absolute lowest packaging and transportation impacts of all; made in New Brunswick and available online!
  • Use a clothesline instead of a dryer (big energy savings)
  • If your washer isn’t a high-efficiency front-loading model, make sure your next one is!
  • Avoid fabric softener and dry cleaning (more to come on both)

Your wise clothes washing decisions can make for a cleaner environment!