The man who runs iconic denim manufacturer Levi Strauss has shared a bizarre tip to help save the planet.
Climate-conscious Charles Bergh has urged his customers to wear their jeans while showering instead of putting them in the washing machine, to save energy and water and reduce pollution.
He first brought attention to the issue with public comments in 2014 that his own denim “hadn’t seen a washing machine yet” – and his advice that “true denim fans” should follow suit.
Levi’s CEO Charles Bergh told CNBC’s ‘Managing Asia’ last month that he wears his jeans in the shower and scrubs them with soap like he would his own legs. But only “if they get really gross, you know, if I’ve been sweating or something,” the CEO clarified.
Scientists in Canada have found alarming levels of denim microfibers in aquatic ecosystems. Above, the distribution of average microfiber concentrations from the sediment samples they analyzed, including fibers found in the Canadian Arctic, the Great Lakes, and rainbow smelt fish.
Bergh has now clarified his position, but environmental science has also caught up with the idea, confirming that toxic microfibers shed from denim during too many runs in the washing machine are building up in aquatic ecosystems.
“If they get really gross, you know, if I’ve been sweating or something,” the CEO clarified, “I’ll wash them in the shower.”
As Bergh said CNBCIn last month’s ‘Managing Asia’, he puts on his jeans in the shower and rubs them with soap like a person would wash their legs. But only when his jeans get really dirty.
“If I get a little curry on my jeans, I’ll wipe them off,” Bergh said. “But I’ll clean the stains.”
In 2020, researchers found that synthetic indigo denim fibers made up nearly a quarter of microfibers deposited in the Great Lakes and around the Canada-U.S. border and a fifth of clothing fragments in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. .
The team’s experiments, published in Environmental science and technology lettersalso determined that around 50,000 microscopic fragments of denim come off in a single pass through a household washing machine.
“Jeans, the world’s most popular item of clothing,” the researchers said, “have a widespread geographic footprint in the form of microfibers in aquatic environments from temperate to arctic regions.”
“In fact, these ‘natural’ microfibers are often more abundant than synthetic microfibers in environmental samples.”
Images of an indigo denim fiber identified as cotton found in (C) Arctic sediments, (D) Great Lakes fish, (E) wastewater treatment plant effluent, and (F) a denim fiber released from blue jeans collected from wash water effluent. Scale bars are 10 micrometers.
The researchers, operating out of the University of Toronto, used microscopy and Raman spectroscopy to identify and count indigo denim microfibers in several water samples collected in Canada.
Raman spectroscopy scatters light from a high-intensity laser source to reveal information about chemical structure.
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But the team also detected denim microfiber in the digestive tract of a rainbow smelt, a type of fish native to the Great Lakes.
Based on the levels of microfibers found in wastewater effluent, such as those washed in after washing clothes at home, researchers estimate that local wastewater treatment plants discharge about 1 billion indigo denim microfibers. per day.
“We still don’t know the impacts on wildlife and the environment.” The study’s lead author, Samantha Athey, said Scientific news explore.
“Although denim is made from a natural material, cotton, it contains chemicals,” he added.
But Levi’s CEO Charles Bergh had more environmentally conscious reasons for leaving jeans out of the washing machine.
The appliance uses a lot of water in each cycle.
On top of that, washing jeans is an important part of clothing’s carbon footprint, according to Bergh. And the denim industry already consumes a lot of water in manufacturing, he told CNBC.
But as a devoted denim lover who has made the fabric his career, the executive had plenty of style reasons to keep his jeans out of the washing machine, too.
Too many spin cycles, he suggested, will degrade the shape and color of the jeans and decrease the risk of rips and holes.
“True denim fans, people who really love their denim,” Bergh said, “will tell you to never put your denim in a washing machine.”