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High and Dry

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Think of eco-friendly clothing, and you probably think organic cotton or fabric made from recycled materials. But for some, eco-friendly apparel means clothes dried on a clothesline. At least 6 percent of a household’s electricity consumption is produced by a clothes dryer, according to a 2001 report by the Department of Energy, turning the choice to line dry into an environmental act with the potential to outshine one’s choice of fabric.

“We use as little energy as possible,” says Kristin Goldsmith, who teaches Forrest Yoga in Oakland, California. She and her boyfriend stretched a clothesline across their backyard about eight months ago in an attempt to reduce their environmental impact. Goldsmith has received only positive reactions to her clothesline, but others haven’t been so lucky. As more people have begun setting up clotheslines during the last year and a half, whether to save money or to live a greener lifestyle, controversy and legal battles have erupted around their use. Many of the approximately 300,000 private communities in the United States ban clotheslines, saying that they raise safety and liability issues as well as threatening property values. Alexander Lee, founder of the organization Project Laundry List, says the liability argument is false. “That’s the one that’s been used most frequently because no one likes to admit that they’re a snob,” he says. If safety were the real issue, Lee says, clothes dryers would be banned instead. They cause more than 15,000 fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. Fire Administration.

Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont have recently passed legislation that grants the right to dry clothing outdoors, and Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia are working on similar legislation. Soon, it seems, line drying could become less of a political act, and more of a spiritual one, as it has for Goldsmith. “Hanging out the laundry to dry is another thing that slows me down and helps me to breathe,” she says, “another thing that helps me to be present.” 

Tips for Greener Laundry

1 To save water and energy, do full loads and set the washer to wash and rinse in cold water.

2 Hang clothes to dry! 
Even allowing clothes to dry partially on a clothesline 
cuts down on dryer time and 
saves energy.

3 Buy an Energy Star-rated washing machine—they use less energy and less water, and the spin cycle of newer machines spins more water out of clothes, which means they dry faster.

4 Use biodegradable laundry detergent, or no detergent at all; the agitation 
of the machine is sufficient to clean most loads.

5 Donate your clothes when you’re done wearing them: Approximately 23.8 billion pounds of clothing and textiles end up in U.S. landfills each year.

Courtesy of Project Laundry List;