T-shirts hanging on a clothesline in front of blue sky and sun

The South End Guide to Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Laundry Day

by Mark Van Streefkerk


Early last week a study released by the United Nations revealed the alarming state of climate change, which is accelerating at a faster rate than we previously thought. The effects of greenhouse gasses are warming up the planet, sea levels around the world are rising (about 8 inches on average between 1901 and 2018), and heat waves and wildfires are becoming increasingly more frequent in areas that historically never had these issues — as anyone living in Seattle in the last few years can attest to. 

In an NPR article, Ko Barrett, the vice chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, mentioned a couple of key takeaways from the report: “It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” and “[i]t is still possible to forestall most of the most dire impacts, but it really requires unprecedented, transformational change.”  

If we’re in the red zone right now, change has to come from the big players to truly make a difference. An article in The Guardian identified 20 companies who are responsible for 35% of the world’s carbon emissions. 

In the Guardian article, climate scientist Michael Mann said, “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price — in the form of a degraded planet — so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits.”

In fact, it’s been documented that at least one big oil company has invested in decades of propaganda to deflect the blame of carbon emissions onto individuals rather than take responsibility for their own pollution. It’s a tactic also used by tobacco and firearms companies to dodge their own responsibility, pointing instead to individual’s rights. 

What Can We Do? 

A report issued in 2017 found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of industrial greenhouse emissions. One individual’s actions really do seem meaningless in the face of big time polluters — but it’s not as simple as that, either. 

In a Vox article, Richard Heede, the co-founder and co-director of the Climate Accountability Institute, explained that for one, these big carbon offenders are creating materials that we use, all seven billion of us to varying degrees. Big oil companies provide us with the gas we use to fuel our cars, fly in planes, and heat our homes, as well as the plastic that’s permeated literally every part of our lives. Big polluting companies have a lion’s share of climate responsibility, but it’s in everyone’s interests to reduce our carbon footprints. Heede pointed out that the average American household’s footprint is 24,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year (the highest in the world), which “we can easily cut in half if we invest in energy efficiency. A lot of things are free to do.” 

Heede mentioned things like turning off lights that aren’t being used, turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth or shave, and air-drying our clothes in the summer are all free, “and they save several hundred pounds [in CO2 emissions] per year.” 

“We can’t solve the problem by ourselves, but it would be a morally better choice to attempt to do something and derive satisfaction by it rather than saying, ‘My carbon savings don’t matter.’ Because they do matter!” Heede said.

Taking the Biggest Offenders to Task

One of the best things we can do as individuals is to put the pressure on big polluters to change. Five years ago, the Lummi Nation was integral in fighting successfully to put a stop to the expansion of the BP Cherry Point Refinery, just north of Bellingham. Since then, the Whatcom County Council voted to permanently ban new infrastructure for fossil fuel industries, the first county in the U.S. to do so.

The victory was a good indicator of how attitudes are changing in Washington. Governor Inslee has a proposed climate policy package that would reduce the state’s emissions by 35% while investing in green infrastructure. A Seattle Green New Deal was passed unanimously by City Council in 2019, however, “the City has continued to fail to meet its carbon emission reduction targets,” according to an article in The Urbanist

You can call and email your City and State representatives and ask them how they are going to meet our emissions goals and cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Follow organizations like 350 Seattle, Got Green, and Zero Waste Washington to find out how you can get involved in local climate activism. 

Now, About Your Laundry

Tying into what Heede said about some easy — and free — ways to reduce our carbon footprints, retiring your dryer is an excellent choice. Summertime in Seattle is a wonderful time to take advantage of outdoor air-drying — a carbon-friendly, natural drying service.

Some facts about dryers and line-drying your clothes: 

  • It’s a uniquely North American thing to even have a dryer. The majority of the world’s people line-dry their clothes. 
  • A dryer is the third-most energy-guzzling appliance, after the refrigerator and washer. 
  • An average dryer cycle produces about 1.8kg (or 3.96lbs.) of CO2. If your household does two dryer cycles per week, that’s about 205 pounds of CO2 per year. 
  • Air-drying extends the life of your clothes. Dryers are hard on clothes, and line-drying gives your clothes that sun-kissed smell of summer.

Check out some cost-efficient ways to air-dry, both indoors and outside.


This climate change series is made possible with support from Nia Tero.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist and freelance writer living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

Featured Image: Photo by Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock

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