Jeans are big polluters – so make the best decision to buy

Chronicle: Save the world in small steps: What makes most jeans the biggest environmental sin – and how to find the exception

Wednesday, 10.07.2019, 22:09

I'm really trying. I always have my cup with me, I do not eat meat anymore and be careful not to buy vegetables wrapped in plastic. But there are other areas of my life where I am not really concerned about the environment and sustainable.

Each week, this column examines one of these areas, presents the issues and indicates how to make a responsible decision.

This week is dedicated to clothing – more specifically jeans,

I must confess that I love buying new clothes. And I like to wear jeans. I'm not alone with this: the Blue Jeans are at the top of the list of favorite clothes of the Germans. According to a study by the institute of market research eResult 2015, every woman in Germany has an average of eight in the wardrobe. I must confess: I have more.

And more and more denim is imported into the Federal Republic. Between 2006 and 2018, their number rose from 119 million to 197.9 million. The main countries of origin are Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey.

Jeans are one of the biggest environmental sins of the fashion industry

The problem: unfortunately, denim is one of the biggest environmental problems of the fashion industry. So, I want to be honest with myself. How do jeans hurt the environment? And what should I look for when buying to minimize this damage?

1st problem: conventional cotton cultivation

  • When growing conventional cotton monocultures cultivated, for what pesticides to be used. This leads to the death of insects and bees and destroys the soil.
  • The Federal Environment Agency says that 14% of the global insecticide market and about 5% of the pesticide market is attributable to conventional cotton production.
  • In addition, up to one kilogram of chemicals are used to produce one kilogram of textile.
  • It is harmful for the health of workers to be exposed to toxins from fertilizers and pesticides, as well as to the skin of consumers.
  • Another problem is that CO2 emissions from conventional cotton production are high (about 1808 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of cotton), according to the Öko Institute Institute for Environmental Research.
  • In addition, water consumption is immense. Although it depends on the method of concrete irrigation, it takes at least 7,000 liters for the production of traditional jeans.

Therefore, there are some reasons to buy organic cotton jeans.

Alternative: organic cotton

  • In the culture is given up on chemical pesticides, instead natural fertilizer used.
  • CO2 emissions from organic cotton are lowerThe percentage of biodiesel that differs from conventional cotton production varies between 40 and 60 percent because many factors play a role. In addition, sustainable labels often aim to produce with renewable energy and keep transport routes low.
  • Another advantage of organic cotton is that it produces seeds from which new plants can grow. Genetically modified seeds used in conventional production are however not reusable because they are destroyed by the use of pesticides.
  • Pesticide abandonment also reduces water consumption of organic cotton. Due to this waiver, the soil humus content is increasing. It can in turn better store water.

How to recognize organic cotton

To find out what kind of cotton has been used in the jeans you want to buy, the following distinction is useful:

GMO cotton is genetically modified and pesticides and fertilizers are used for growing

"Sustainable cotton" ("Sustainable cotton") is not genetically modified and less pesticides and fertilizers are used in cultivation

"Organic cotton" is a type of cotton that does not require genetic engineering, pesticides or fertilizers. Good seals found in certified organic cotton textiles include the GOTS and IVN labels.

But the subject of cotton is not the only subject to consider, but the production of the process is also subject to a considerable ecological burden.

2nd problem: the dye and the "worn look"

  • The blue dye of jeans is not only greedy in water, but it will be heavy metals used – for example, arsenic, mercury or lead. For dyeing, we use the dye "Indigo", which is only soluble in water when it is mixed with chemicals.
  • When money laundering is often chlorine used – up to two kilos for a pair of jeans – and it's like heavy metals very harmful to health.
  • Even the "worn look" is a problem. This is often the method of sandblasting applied. This produces dust that, if it gets into the lungs of workers, can be extremely damaging to your health.

This affects the health of workers who come into contact with this product, but toxic substances also pollute wastewater and rivers, lakes and drinking water in producing countries.

According to a WHO study, about 20,000 people worldwide die every year from the health consequences of chemicals, including farmers, harvest workers, manufacturers, and people living in areas where people live. culture.

Alternatives to dyeing with chemicals

There are many ways to make the dye and style of denim fabrics more durable. One way to make the dye more environmentally friendly is to add nitrogen, for example, which concentrates the indigo dye, which reduces the consumption of water and chemicals.

The GOTS and IVN labels are also a good guide for ecological dyeing. The health certificate is a useful seal to find jeans made without toxin and without sandblasting.

3rd problem: long transport routes

Another problem affecting the textile industry as a whole: to maximize profits and keep prices as low as possible, many fashion chains are carrying out individual steps in the process of making jeans in different countries: cotton growing, processing cotton flowers in yarn Subsequent processing into fabric, dyeing, sewing – tens of thousands of kilos put jeans back on sale. This guarantees a huge CO2 emission.

Alternative: regional production, little transport

Therefore, it is worth paying attention to regional production when buying jeans. Many sustainability-conscious brands have their pants treated even when cotton is grown – jeans are often developed directly in Germany or in the country of origin of the brand. Sewing threads, zippers, buttons and tags are often made locally to save on shipping costs.


If you want to avoid waste in the future, buy in the fair store Laguna Shop sustainable products without plastic.

4th problem: social norms

But the environmental and ecological problems are not the only ones to take into account during the purchase. The same goes for the jean industry as it is for the entire textile industry: in emerging and developing countries, working conditions are often miserable: workers receive low wages, are exposed to dangerous and other hazards, do not have health or occupational health insurance. All this allows us to buy our jeans cheaply.

So, if you want to be sure that the manufacturing process is right, you have to spend more money for it. Fair trade eighth.

Alternative: fair trade

  • Fair Trade means above all a equitable remuneration. Because fair trade guarantees the guarantee of a certain minimum price for workers and farmers, this allows them to have a more reliable remuneration, more independent of the market price.
  • Also, by the respective fair trade organizations Environmental and social standards established.

The most important seal is that fair trade label. Denim Fairtrade jeans are more expensive than fast fashion jeans, ensuring that farmers and workers in developing countries benefit.

In the context of social norms, is also the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) exciting. Behind this lies a foundation that brings together companies from all over Europe. FWF was created to improve working conditions in the apparel industry. To this end, the FWF regularly reviews the progress of member companies, monitors business practices, conducts inspections at production sites and conducts interviews with workers. The FWF works not only with companies and labels, but also with NGOs, trade unions and professional associations.

So there is a lot to consider if you want to buy jeans that are socially fair, environmentally friendly and sustainable. I've come across some durable brands and noted the most important things that have hit me. Important: I do not guarantee that everything is complete.

Armed angels

  • Headquarters: Cologne, Germany
  • Price: 80 to 110 euros
  • Organic cotton, GOTS certified
  • Production without harmful chemicals
  • Buttons without nickel, pieces of paper
  • Fair production, factory in Tunisia

Hess Natur

  • Headquarters: Butzbach, Germany
  • Price: 70 to 130 euros
  • Organic cotton, staining with non-toxic dyes, no harmful chemicals and sand blasting
  • Vegan patch
  • "Leader status" in the Fair Wear Foundation
  • Own label for internal quality standards

Bleeding clothes

  • Headquarters: Helmbrechts, Germany
  • Price: 50 to 100
  • Fair production in family businesses, 88% in Europe and 12% in China
  • Organic cotton, recycled cotton, quality clothing and GOTS certified
  • vegan production
  • Various: minimum waste shipment: no plastic waste in the package, no climate impact shipment, sent by DHL GoGreen


  • Headquarters: Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Price: 50 to 150 euros
  • Organic cotton, grown in Turkey, production completely free of pollution, no pesticides, no dangerous chemicals
  • Production in Italy and Tunisia
  • Other: Sustainable consumption through free repair service, resale of used products, recycling of withdrawn products.


  • Headquarters: Augsburg, Germany
  • Price: 60 to 130 euros
  • Organic cotton is grown fairly, GOTS certified
  • Production without harmful chemicals
  • Production site: Augsburg
  • All raw materials come from a radius of 300 km, only cotton from Tanzania and Turkey
  • Other: eco-social textile company – employed people who have little or no opportunities in the mainstream labor market and who are difficult to place
  • Recycle leftover production – mixed with organic cotton


  • Headquarters: Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Price: 100 to 130 euros
  • Organic cotton, recycled denim, no chemicals
  • Production sites under fair conditions in Turkey, Pakistan and Italy

Kings of Indigo

  • Headquarters: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Price: 70 to 150 euros
  • Organic cotton, recycled cotton, member of the Fair Wear Foundation, fair working conditions
  • Production sites: Tunisia, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Romania, Spain, Moldova, Macedonia, Netherlands

MUD jeans

  • Location: Laren, Netherlands
  • Price: 119 euros
  • Organic and recycled cotton, climate neutral, no harmful chemicals
  • no plastic garbage when shipping, rather repack the bags that are reused
  • Other: You can rent jeans instead of buying. If the jeans are worn and you want to buy a new one, you can send it back. It is then recycled

And me now? I love the fitted cut and wanted to have a new one, preferably in black. I found what I wanted with the jeans "MAIRAA" of Armeded Angels at 99.90 euros and the "JEANS RELAX ROSY BLACK" of MUD at 129.00 euros. I did not buy any – but not because they did not fit my expectations, but rather because the research led me to think more consciously about my consumption: I did not do it. I really do not "need" new jeans,

My general conclusion is that: until now, I've never bought my jeans in a lasting brand, but I will definitely try it next time. I do not know yet, but it's clear that all the brands listed list their production standards in detail. Sometimes the details are different, but overall, everything seems to focus on socially and environmentally sustainable standards and their transparency.

Old Jeans: send away, resell – or sew something

One thing is clear: the extent of the offer is sometimes much less important than for the big brands – but I think that in the end, everyone could find jeans in it. one of the stores that fits his wishes. In terms of price, jeans are in the lineup of designer jeans, which is more than enough when money benefits employees or the environment. I prefer to pay more for good conditions than for any brand name. In addition, I have too many clothes that I do not wear – if jeans are more expensive, I also wonder if I really need them and if I wear them before buying them. And that reduces the mass consumption a little at the end.

By the way, if you do not want to wear your jeans anymore, you can resell them on portals such as "gadgets" or "Shpock", or maybe even sew something new. It is also good to wash your jeans as rarely as possible. It is best to turn it to the left and it is often enough to wash the jeans with cold water and by hand – this is how the pants last longer.

In the video: H & M repairs your broken clothes – but in one store