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leader's column

Women’s Green Leadership in the New Normal Era

Registered Date June 04, 2021 Read 33

Covid-19 entirely changed our life. With the advent of so-called Untact Era, we can hardly shake hands with others, let alone enjoying shopping or travelling around. On the other hand, there have been a rapid increase in online transactions and non-face-to-face business handlings. In a sense, the lockdown of factories and commercial facilities along with decrease in physical social activities brought some positive effects to environment. The greenhouse gases emission, water pollution and noise pollution dramatically decreased and tourist attractions could have the time for restoring themselves free from tourist invasion.

However, it also caused negative environmental effects such as an explosive increase in biomedical wastes and plastic wastes.[1] Imagine all disposable masks and the plastic containers of delivery food that we
ve discarded so far! What I am most concerned about is that under this circumstance they tend to focus only on the value of sanitation and safety, ignoring the potential of recycling and sustainability. Now that covid-19 vaccines are developed and the vaccination get stated, it is expected that we can soon resume our economic and social activities as before. And the earth will continue to suffer from the wastes and pollution on top of the huge amount of waste from pandemic era. We should remember that covid-19 affects the infected only, but the ecological pollution may hit everyone on this planet regardless of wearing a mask. This article aims to closely review womens roles for the protection of environment in the post-pandemic era.

 

[Picture 1] A wild bird whose feet are caught by disposable mask strings[2]

 

 

We witnessed the disaster of climate change in 2020. Korea, China and Japan were suffering from heavy rainfalls, while European countries were suffering from an unprecedented heat wave. In the meantime, Australia and western part of the US were frequently troubled with forest fires due to dry weather. This is definitely due to global warming and the main culprit

of it is known as fossil fuels. We are surrounded by plastic products which are made of petrochemicals. Plastics, even though they are incinerated or landfilled or recycled, cause environmental pollution by emitting carbon dioxide at every step in its life cycle[3]. They also threaten wildlife[4] and take more than 400 years to decompose[5].       
                                                                      

If so, do we need to stop all production activities? No, we cannot. The electronic devices may be the substitute for the paper and pen. But we humans still need food, clothes, and social relations. This is why the concept of sustainability is crucial. This allows the development of resources but also accentuates the harmony between human and nature by minimizing the impact on the ecological system.[6] In short, it means to develop resources in a sustainable way by protecting nature from pollution and depletion.

Fortunately, many people started to recognize this value. New materials are one of the most

vibrant research fields now and many upcycling/recycling brands with creative ideas are

spring up. This is the point where womens role gets significant. As the word Sheconomy[7]

refers to, women are the powerful consuming subjects around the world. Women consumers

take up 70% to 80% of all e-commerce worldwide.[8] Women consumes in various ways from destroyed jeans for a teenage girl to groceries for an old housewife. If a woman chooses to purchase eco-friendly products, and if she can go even further and start an eco-friendly business, she will be the most successful green leader in the new normal era.

 

Then, specifically in which field do we need to take environment initiatives? I dare to say it is in fashion area. Apparel production system has very complicated processes from fabric dyeing to packaging and shipping in order to make a garment product. And huge amount of waste and pollution is occurring from every step of this process. According to the reports from reliable media like Forbes and Business of Fashion, it is shocking that the apparel industry is the second largest industrial polluter following oil industry.[9] More than 100 billion garments have been manufactured every year since 2014 even though it goes slow now due to Covid-19.[10] Meanwhile, a garbage truck full of textile is sent to a landfill or burnt every second.[11] As a result, total 1.2 billion tons of gas emissions are created per year, which is more than the emission from all international flights and marine shipping combined.[12]

Unfortunately most of these abandoned clothes are not biodegradable.
Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber, the most common fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.[13] And here is the worst part. Plastic microfibers shed from our synthetic clothing while washing do not readily break down into harmless molecules[14], continuously giving off toxic chemicals.[15] A lot of marine wildlife are dying in pain after eating microplastics. And I think we, too, already started to eat them.

Furthermore, most garments are being made under severe working conditions in factories in underdeveloped countries. The workers in Nepal and Bangladesh are not equipped with proper safety gear when dyeing textiles, and the wastewater with toxic chemicals from the factories is polluting the local communities. Thus, it can be said that pretty outfits for rich countries victimize the health and safety of poor countries. This is one example of environmental injustice. We should keep in mind that South Korea, one of the most fashionable and trend-sensitive nations, is among those rich countries. Therefore, we should take more responsibility and make more effort for environmental justice.


 [Picture 2] 
Textile clothing waste stacked in Southeast Asia[16]        
                                  


 [Picture 3]
  Water pollution from textile dyeing in Bangladesh[17]

 

Now lets discuss the specific measures for women to realize environmental justice. The ideas being suggested here are not professional ones as environmental experts or new material researchers do but simple ones that every ordinary woman can get involved in. At an individual level, we can come up with common-sense actions such as purchasing eco-friendly products, using items for a long time and sharing them with others. These are quite essential, but not adequate for the purpose. Id like to put more highlighter on organizational efforts because all things have to work together for good of environmental justice. The more people get involved and the larger the scale is, the better we can contribute to this value.

First, I suggest that we develop upcycling/recycling/downcycling system based on donation. According to one estimate, reusing 1 kilogram of clothing saves 3.6 kg of carbon dioxide and 6,000 liters of water..[18] Recently, world summits including U.S. president Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to reduce greenhouse gases toward the eventual goal of net-zero carbon emission by 2050. This goal cannot be achieved unless China, the worlds biggest fashion market, recycle 26 million tons of clothes thrown away every year.[19] Other countries have the same issue, too. Since this requires both a cloth-recycling system and the development of biodegradable fiber, sustainable fashion, which includes the garments made of biodegradable materials and upcycled garments, is becoming a hot trend globally.

Here I suggest that the donated clothes need to be divided into three categories: 1) upcycling clothes which can be created to be a product of higher quality, 2) recycling clothes which can be simply reused, 3) downcycling clothes which can be converted to materials of less value. And the connection system should be built where those three categories are linked with brands, relief groups and material companies respectively.

Second, the unified platform for sustainable dealings is inevitable. At the moment, we do not have a common center specializing in upcycled/recycled/downcycled products. So the unified grand-scale platform like Amazon or ebay should be constructed so that more people can get involved. This platform or mobile application will function actively when we Christian women lead the initiative and cause a chain reaction. The app users only have to find the right category and freely donate or sell or buy. If the transactions are based on the local town like Danggeun Market[20], shipping and picking will be a lot easier and this helps to establish trust in deals. Since we are more accustomed to non-face-to-face routines than ever in new normal era, the online transactions are extremely brisk now. So this is the right time.

 

[Table 1] Process of Sustainable Use for Clothing

 

Third, we should take the head for promotion and education of sustainability. I think this is the most basic and critical role. The word of mouth is sometimes a more powerful driver for women than the dazzling billboards in Time Square in New York. If people do not recognize its importance, the earth will not get better. We should share a variety of brilliant ideas through the platform mentioned above. Just by a quick google search we can find so many creative ideas such as the air fresheners made of icepacks, a rug made of old T-shirts and the buttons made of discarded glass bottles. The most practicable and efficient ideas should be selected and shared.