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NatureInterface > No.02 > P096-097 [Japanese]



What Is a Lifestyle Friendly to the Earth?

There was a newspaper article entitled "Does Soap Also Pollute the Environment?" in the Jan. 9, 2001 Asahi Shimbun newspaper. I was very interested in this article, because I have been using soap, in spite of soap residues or yellowing of the laundry, for about 20 years since my child was born.

The summary of the article goes like this; "Soap is not absolutely friendlier to the earth than synthetic detergent. From an environmental conservation point of view, it's not certain which one is better, soap or synthetic detergent." In this article, there was a statement by Prof. Yukio Takahashi of Niigata University, Japan: "We need to notice that washing itself causes a problem, and we should change our lifestyles from 'wash after wearing the dress,' to 'wash when the dress becomes dirty'. We need ideas to reduce the amount of detergent or frequency of washing." He means that we have to consider our frequency of washing, before discussing the problem of pollution caused by detergents. Environmental issues might eventually be affected by the consciousness of individuals. And, the consciousness of individuals is created through the interaction of people's consciousness.

After reading this article, I was curious about the consciousness of others, and sent out a questionnaire I had made up. At first I intended for my acquaintances (homemakers of my generation) to answer the questionnaire, but young people also answered it.

The questionnaire is included at the end of this article. I classified the laundry washed at home into underwear, shirts, blouses, towels, trousers, skirts, jackets and bed sheets. Though I had known this questionnaire had some inadequacies, I noticed more inadequacies after receiving the answers. First of all, many people hesitated to state how often they washed clothes. For me, frequency of washing is equated with the how often I change clothes. But people don't always wash whenever they change clothes, and sometimes wash all of their family's laundry at once. Furthermore, each family member has different habits with regards to changing clothes. As seen in the table, sweaters, jackets, trousers and skirts are not washed frequently. They were, rather, washed when they became dirty. Although the questionnaire may not be statistically accurate, I could see various trends, and gain insight into various lifestyles.

There were various opinions or answers, as shown below:

*The frequency with which you wash a dress differs depending on the frequency you wear it. If you don't have many clothes, you have to wash them more frequently.

*How often you wash also varies depending on where you live. My parents live in the countryside, where the air is clean, so they don't need to wash often.

*I wash my child's clothes everyday. Otherwise, I can't get out the stains.

*Every day I wash the clothes that come into direct contact with the skin. How often I wash jeans and skirts differs depending on which family member wears them. (I wash my children's jeans or skirts more often than those of the adults. I wash my children's clothes at least once every two days.)

*I don't do laundry everyday. When there are many clothes to wash, I wash them after sorting them.

*I'm not sure if I'm using the right amount of detergent, because I do my washing depending on the weather, amount of laundry that has accumulated, and the capacity of the washing machine.

*Even though I think washing without using soap is fine for bath towels, I wash them together with the other clothes, using a lot of water, because it takes time to wash bath towels separately.

When I read the article "Does Soap Also Pollute the Environment?", which spurred me to think about how often I did laundry, I took it for granted that many people use soap. But only 23% of the respondents reported using soap. This is no surprise, because synthetic detergents have improved, and there are various detergents available now that are more convenient, safer and friendlier to the earth than detergents available in the past. But it's not known for certain to what extent soap or detergent is safer and friendlier for the environment.

How people do laundry varies depending on their lifestyle. When I read the respondents' answers to my questionnaire, I sometimes questioned their common sense. One of the questions in the survey was on bath towels, and one of the respondents said "we don't use bath towels in our house." I was surprised to read this, because my own children don't know a life without bath towels. But this respondent said that in her childhood, using bath towels was not a common custom. When she has told others this, they ask her "why?" She would then tell them that her family used the same towel to both wash and dry themselves, and they then understood why. Despite my awareness of the environment, I myself have gotten used to having an easy and comfortable life.

How people did laundry changed with the appearance of the washing machine in around 1955. At that time, three household electrical goods modernized the home and became popular, the refrigerator, the TV, and the washing machine.

Washing had been one of the hardest chores for housewives, but now, all they needed to do was push buttons to do a wash, including spin-drying. Washing became convenient, easy, and comfortable. But here, we must think for whom it is convenient, easy, and comfortable. Only human beings can answer this. At the time when these three household appliances were developed, we only had to think about how these appliances would make our lives easier. But these days, we can't think only about ourselves, human beings. We need to start to think about other living things that share the earth with us.

One day, I found an article which stated, "Washing frequently and favoring washing is culture." The abstract went like this: "Washing became easier through the appearance of washing machines, but the frequency of washing didn't increase. Cleanliness is culture... Japanese love washing. Japanese used to do laundry frequently, even in olden times when washing was hard work."

"Culture?" When I think about culture, I think of words like "cultural property," "cultural assets," "order of culture," etc., and "culture" seems to be something precious. Indeed, culture is basically human-centric. So, we may have to think about culture. The conversion of our consciousness from "wash after wearing the dress," to "wash after the dress becomes dirty" is important, as stated in the articles about the "culture of washing" and in the statements of Prof. Takahashi. If we try to change our washing habits from "wash the whole dress," to "wash part of the dress," the impact of washing, a human behavior, may lessen.

Almost half of the respondents said they would be able to reduce how often they did laundry, though the frequency with which they washed depended on family structures, or the kind of clothes their family used. Some people wrote at the end of the questionnaire:

*I had to think a lot to answer the questions. Answering this questionnaire gave me the chance to think about the impact doing laundry has on the earth. The development of washing machines may have contributed to pollution. I can't help thinking now about what is truly important.

*I regret that I have done the washing too often. I want to change my awareness about this issue, and only wash clothes when they are dirty. Washing is not the only problem; we also have to think about how we use dishwasher detergent.

Though the questionnaire was not adequately designed, it did prompt the respondents to think about their present lifestyles, and it did affect their awareness of this issue. I, myself, have started to rethink how I do my washing.

I have been trying a new method of doing laundry: I don't do the washing until several shirts or blouses become dirty, and I hand-wash collars or sleeves with soap, since they easily get dirty, and then rinse and spin-dry them altogether. This method requires a lot of time. I'm experimenting to see if this method is adequate for cleaning clothes, and is friendly to the earth.

I think the way families do their laundry will vary, depending on their lifestyle, which determines how dirty their clothes will get. Families who can do their laundry in a way friendly to the earth should do it when they can. I think this will help the environment. I may be exaggerating a little, but saving the earth starts from the consciousness of each individual. Environmental issues are matters of consciousness.

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