How to offset the carbon footprint of jeans by wearing them

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  • It’s time to invest in denim you’ll love for a lifetime.

    We all know fast fashion is the enemy when it comes to the environment and our best jeans can be one of the main culprits. Why is the carbon footprint of jeans so bad? From online shopping to quick-changing trends, we are buying more than ever before. Worse, we’re disposing of it quicker, too.

    According to estimates from the UN, the fashion industry contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 20% of wastewater. Factors such as how clothing is transported, produced and then disposed of all contribute to the devastating impact on the environment.

    For example, a single pair of jeans requires 1kg of cotton, and producing that uses around 10,000 litres of water. That’s enough drinking water for one person over an entire decade – and that’s just one pair!

    From skinnies to mom jeans, think about how many pairs the average person owns. Frightening, eh? That’s a lot of wastewater – and much of this wastewater is full of chemicals and dyes that impact our rivers and oceans as well. This is all before our jeans even enter our wardrobes.

    How damaging to the environment is a pair of jeans?

    Denim brand Levi Strauss estimates that a pair of its signature 501 jeans will produce the equivalent of 33.4kg of carbon dioxide equivalent across its entire lifespan. That’s about the same as driving 69 miles in the average US car. These emissions are from a combination of production, packaging, transport and consumer use – mainly from washing.

    This is where we come in. If we washed our jeans after every 10 wears, rather than every two, it could reduce water usage and climate-change impact by up to 80% – a big improvement in the carbon footprint of jeans. UK consumers use more hot water than American or Chinese consumers, and if we washed our jeans in cold water instead of warm, it would reduce climate impact by 21%. How we dry our clothes is important, too. Line drying is a lot more planet-friendly than using a tumble dryer.

    “You don’t need to wash clothes as often as you might think. You can hang your clothes out to air, for example, rather than washing them after each wear. Reducing the amount of washing that you need to do is the best way of making sure that microplastics don’t get into the water system,” says Fee Gilfeather, Oxfam’s sustainable-fashion expert.

    How else can we help offset the carbon footprint?

    As well as washing less, there are other small things things we can do to help offset the carbon footprint of jeans and other clothes. Think investing in higher-quality clothing that lasts, holding onto them for longer and wearing more often.

    If we continued to wear our clothes for just nine months longer, it could reduce their environmental impact by 22%, according to a report by recycling charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

    Hands up if you have clothes in your wardrobe that don’t fit you any more? Or have never even been worn in the first place? You’re not alone. Research by Oxfam found that the average adult currently owns at least two items that remain unworn.

    Thanks to our thirst for new trends, the lifespan of our clothes has been significantly shortened, but holding on to our clothes longer will help the planet. As will resisting the urge to buy anything new. And seeing as jeans are a fashion mainstay, it’s definitely worth investing in a long-lasting pair.

    “Buying clothes that are made to last is better for the planet, but you can also extend the life of your clothes by repairing them. Consider  stitching on buttons that have fallen off or patching up holes. That way, you reduce waste and reduce the need to buy new clothes, all of which is a drain on the planet’s resources,” adds Fee.

    Around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing ends up in landfill in the UK every year and many of these items could have been recycled or upcycled.

    When you are ready to get rid of clothing, think first about how you can give it another lease of life. Donate old items to a charity shop, sell them at a car-boot sale or have a clothes swap with friends.

    How to reduce the carbon footprint of your jeans

    • Wash jeans after every 10 wears, rather than every two
    • Air your jeans outside rather than washing them whenever you can
    • Wash jeans in cold water instead of warm
    • Dry them on the line rather than using a tumble dryer
    • Buy the best-quality jeans you can afford and wear them longer

    The long-lasting denim we love

    As well as we consumers doing our bit, big brands and retailers are also making moves to change the way garments are produced. Many have joined schemes such as the Better Cotton Initiative, which promises to use less water and chemicals and helps improve farmer livelihoods.

    Thankfully, finding decent denim that satisfies our shopping cravings and eco-conscience is easier than ever and we’ve hunted down the best denim you’re guaranteed to love for a lifetime.

    Levi’s WellThread Ribcage Straight Ankle Jeans

    WellThread is Levi’s most sustainably designed collection. It’s made with hemp, which requires less water and fewer chemicals to grow than cotton. Their straight-cut fit is a classic that is universally flattering, so a worthy investment.

    VIEW NOW: Levi’s WellThread Ribcage Straight Ankle Jeans, £100, Levi’s

    Gap Sky High Rise Mom Jeans


    Gap’s Washwell programme uses 20% less water than a conventional wash, saving more than 248 million litres of water since its launch in 2016. This retro mom cut has a high waist and a tapered leg for a flattering finish, and is made with 100% cotton for an authentic no-stretch denim.

    VIEW NOW: Gap Sky High Rise Mom Jeans, £49.50, Gap

    Reformation Hailey Trouser Jean

    A favourite with celebs and influencers, this LA-based brand is big on sustainability, detailing every product’s impact on their website. These wide leg jeans are made with 17% organically grown cotton, 40% recycled cotton and 43% Tencel, a fabric that uses less waste.

    VIEW NOW: Hailey Trouser Jean, £160, Reformation

    ELV Denim Mid Blue Match Straight Leg Jean, £245

    Upcycling is at the core of this London brand, creating zero-waste jeans by using discarded denim that otherwise could end up in landfill. Designed and manufactured in east London, it supports local communities and keeps carbon footprint to a minimum.

    VIEW NOW: ELV Denim Mid Blue Match Straight Leg Jean, £245, ELV Denim

    Nudie Jeans Hightop Tilde Night Spirit, £120

    If you’re a skinny-jean fan, then these high-waist super-stretch beauties are the ones for you. Made with organic cotton and recycled polyester, every pair of Nudie jeans comes with a promise of free repairs. Helping you hold on to them that little bit longer.

    VIEW NOW: Nudie Jeans Hightop Tilde Night Spirit, £120, Nudie Jeans

    M&S Carrie High Waisted Skinny Jeans, £29.50

    M&S promises to make clothes that last and 100% of the cotton they use for their denim is sustainably sourced as part of the Better Cotton Initiative. This classic high-rise skinny is also made from recycled polyester yarn from plastic bottles.

    VIEW NOW: M&S Carrie High Waisted Skinny Jeans, £29.50, M&S

    Are you trying to shop more sustainably? Let us know…

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