The Real Global Price of What You Wear, Part 1

Interior of clothing store, wooden floor walkway flanked by mannequins, racks, and shelves of clothing.
Image by auntmasako from Pixabay.

The fashion and clothing industries both contribute to climate change, environmental pollution, and human exploitation. Across the world, perpetuated by wealth, and rampant consumerism based on false urgency to keep up with ‘trends,’ the massive overproduction of clothing is killing us and our environment.

Companies have men, women, and even children, working in dangerous conditions with low or no labor standards. They are kept impoverished by low wages. Companies use toxic chemicals in clothing production, and those chemicals end up in the final products. The clothing industry uses unfathomable amounts of water in production, in a world where there isn’t enough water for everyone. Later, that water is discharged, often into the environment, polluting water and soil. Mass amounts of energy are used to produce both natural and synthetic fabrics. Transporting clothing from developing countries to the west uses astronomical amounts of fossil fuels. Worse, there is so much clothing in the world now that we can’t find uses for all of it.

All this so that we can buy $5 t-shirts that we don’t need. It’s called fast fashion, and it’s detrimental on many levels.

Interior of an Old Navy, a clothing store.
Image by DigestContent from Pixabay.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on quickly producing high volumes of trendy but cheaply-made clothing.1 The term was coined by The New York Times in the 1990s “to describe Zara’s mission to take only 15 days for a garment to go from the design stage to being sold in stores.”2 By the 2000s, brands were taking ideas from the top fashion designers and reproducing them cheaply and quickly. Other big names in fast fashion include H&M, UNIQLO, GAP, Primark, and TopShop.

At one time, there were four seasons of clothing. Today, there are 52 “micro-seasons” per year. Fast fashion was artificially created. The demand “was carefully cultivated by fashion brands to change consumer behavior and make people want more and more, and quickly.”3 

But this disregard for quality has led to clothing going to landfills. “Constantly changing trends have encouraged consumers to discard clothing that’s no longer ‘in style’ even if it’s still wearable.”4 This is not sustainable.

“[Fast fashion] plays into the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux pas and that if you want to stay relevant, you have to sport the latest looks as they happen. It forms a key part of the toxic system of overproduction and consumption that has made fashion one of the world’s largest polluters.”5

Exterior of the Zara store in Tokyo, taken at night, lit up and brightly colored with a large digital advertising screen at top center.
Photo by Comunicacioninditex on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ultra-Fast Fashion

There is an even faster fashion now, referred to as ultra-fast fashion. Brands include SHEIN, Missguided, Forever 21, Zaful, Boohoo, and Fashion Nova. It is a recent phenomenon that is as bad as it sounds.6Ultra fast fashion turns fast fashion’s ‘weeks’ into days and ‘dozens of styles’ into hundreds and thousands. The numbers alone sound sinister. Brands like SHEIN and Boohoo are reportedly posting thousands of new styles to their websites on a daily basis. Sometimes, knockoffs of trending celebrity and pop culture styles will appear online in as little as 24 hours.” Social media, influencer culture, and online hauls certainly stoked the fire in the creation of ultra-fast fashion.7

“A generation now views ultra-fast fashion’s historically low price points and disposable culture as the norm, with many young people considering garments worn out after only a few washes. This overproduction and quick disposal has exacerbated fashion’s waste crisis.”8

H&M Store, Times Square in New York City, photo taken at night with store and billboards bright and lit up.
H&M Store, Times Square in New York City. Photo by Will Buckner on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Wasteful Overproduction

Companies produce more clothing than can be consumed. Some companies trash or burn the excess. “An estimated 2.2 billion pounds of overstock and unsold clothing are landfilled or incinerated around the world every year, according to a 2018 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation…Two billion pounds of clothes is the equivalent in weight of 5 billion T-shirts, enough leftover stock to dress the adult population of the planet. In 2018, H&M announced that the brand was stuck with 4.3 billion dollars worth of unsold goods.” It’s not just fast fashion companies, either. The same year, the luxury brand Burberry was caught destroying excess clothing and accessories worth around $24 million.9 

A woman reaching for a handbag. sourrounded by racks of clothing in a clothing or department store. The clothes appear to be organized by color.
Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash.

Environmental Costs

The world produces around 100 billion articles of clothing annually, and “92 million tonnes end up in landfills.”10 Fast fashion causes extensive damage to the planet, exploits workers, and harms animals.11 The fashion industry produces 10% of all carbon emissions and it is the second-largest consumer of water.12 

Clothing production requires tons of water. For example, it takes almost 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans. Worse, “the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide.”13 Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water as the wastewater from it is often dumped into bodies of water.

“The way we manufacture new clothes is truly unsustainable, commanding a staggering level of resources, especially water, chemicals, and fossil fuels, that can’t continue. Each year, clothing production requires 24 trillion gallons of water, enough to fill 37 million Olympic-sized pools. And the fashion industry spews more globe-warming carbon dioxide annually than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” -Elizabeth L. Cline14

Stacks of blue denim jeans on a table in a clothing store.
Image by Linda Lioe from Pixabay.

Poor Labor Standards and Pitiful Wages

“Only 2 percent of the 40 million garment workers around the world earn a living wage – it effectively amounts to modern-day slavery.”15

Across the world, workers experience unsafe working conditions and low wages that are far below the minimum wage. Companies require garment workers to work long hours through forced overtime, often apply impossible quotas to their daily production, and sometimes even inflict abuse. They also expose workers to many chemicals and pollutants, which jeopardize their health. Unionization attempts and campaigns for improvements in safety, conditions, wages, sick pay, and job security are often barred by the threat of job losses and sometimes violence.16

The garment, textile, and footwear workers around the world deserve better. “Fashion is a powerful industry, one that can and should lift people out of poverty rather than trap them in it. It is a multitrillion-dollar business, with plenty of wealth to go around. And yet, according to Oxfam, the top fashion CEOs earn in four days what the average garment worker will make in a lifetime.” Increasing wages would require only a 1 to 4 percent increase in retail prices.17

“The difference in what it would cost for people to not to have to make these kinds of choices between paying rent and putting food on the table is less than a dollar per garment. Why in the world would any company choose every day to prioritize their profits and paying the lowest price possible over ending that kind of human suffering? Especially when it’s not complicated or unaffordable to fix it.” -Sarah Adler-Milstein, co-author of Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry’s Sweatshops18

Photo of the Eastex Garment Co. Ltd factory in Cambodia, one of garment factories that supplies Swedish company H&M. Shows women sitting at sewing machines in a large factory room with a conveyor belt running through the center.
Photo of the Eastex Garment Co. Ltd factory in Cambodia, one of garment factories that supplies H&M. Photo by U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).

World Exports

World map showing clothing exports with monetary amounts.
Map courtesy of HowMuch.net, a financial literacy website.

Each of the following countries exports billions of dollars of garment products annually:

China:

China is the largest clothing manufacturing country in the world, employing over 15 million people, mostly women. Companies in this country pay the highest wages but that still does not equate to a living wage for all.19

List of companies that source their clothing from China.
List of companies that source their clothing from China. Screenshot from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

Bangladesh:

Bangladesh is the second-largest garment manufacturing country, but they are among the lowest-paid in the world. This is where the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse happened, which killed 1,134 and injured another 2,500 people. While “the disaster brought international attention to the alarming labor conditions in overseas garment factories,” only some improvements in safety issues came from it.20 H&M and the VF Corporations (Vans, North Face, Timberland, etc.) are two of the many companies sourcing from Bangladesh.21

India:

India employs millions of people but often under conditions of forced overtime, less than half of a living wage, and even child labor.22 There have been some improvements but many workers, of which the majority are women, experience physical abuse and sexual harassment. Companies sourcing from India include American Eagle Outfitters, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., and VF Corporation. 

Vietnam:

Vietnam has a communist government that forbids labor unions, and wages are 60 percent below a living wage. There are around 6,000 textile factories that employ about 3 million people. Nike employs 450,000 people there.23 “Many of us are familiar with the news about Nike sweatshops, but they’re just one of the many fast fashion brands violating human rights for the sake of fashion. The people who make our clothes are underpaid, underfed, and pushed to their limits because there are few other options.”24 Zara and H&M are two of the major brands that source from there.

Cambodia:

There are about 600,000 garment workers in Cambodia. Women experience a great deal of abuse, sexual harassment, and low wages, which are 50 percent below a living wage. Many companies, including H&M, Gap, Nike, and Puma, source from there.25

“Brands are interested in getting clothing as cheaply and quickly as they can. They have consciously chosen to locate production in countries that do not enforce their labor laws. A factory that scrupulously complied with the labor law, respected the right to organize, paid all required wages, didn’t force people to work overtime: That factory will not be able to meet brands’ price demands. You can’t survive as a supplier unless you operate a sweatshop, because the brands are only willing to pay sweatshop prices.” -Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium26

Photo of garment workers sewing on sewing machines in a a large factory room in Bangladesh.
Photo of garment workers sewing on sewing machines in a a large factory room in Bangladesh. Photo by Musamir Azad on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Fashion Production in the U.S.

The United States produces little clothing domestically today: Less than 3 percent, which is down from 50% in 1990. “And a Made in USA garment is no longer a guarantee of ethical working conditions.” The largest part of the garment business is in Los Angeles, where there are approximately 45,000 garment workers, many of them undocumented immigrants. “A 2016 US Labor Department investigation of LA’s factories found that 85 percent of inspected factories violated labor laws. Workers are being paid as little as 4 dollars an hour sewing clothes for well-known fashion brands, including Forever 21, Fashion Nova, Ross Dress for Less, and T.J.Maxx.”27 Another investigation found that companies paid sewers as little as $2.77 an hour.28 Even sadder, US garment workers are some of the highest-paid in the world.

Department store clothing mannequins showing clothing.
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay.

The Role of Companies

Companies have the power to make real, humane, sustainable changes. “It’s time for more big brands to step up to the plate,” wrote Elizabeth L. Cline. “Big companies are the ones with the huge economies of scale that could bring down the price of sustainable materials and fund the research and development of eco-friendly innovations, from textile recycling and nontoxic dyes to factories powered by clean energy. They can certainly afford to pay higher wages.”29 But we consumers need to hold these companies accountable.

Fast fashion companies sometimes use greenwashing to make consumers feel better about purchasing their items. Greenwashing refers to when companies deceive consumers by claiming that their products are environmentally friendly or “have a greater positive environmental impact than they really do.”30 “Fast-fashion companies tell their customers that it’s possible to buy their products and still have a clean conscience. H&M has ramped up its use of organic cotton and sustainably sourced materials; Boohoo sells 40 or so items partially made from recycled textiles.” Aja Barber, a fashion-sustainability consultant, called this greenwashing in an interview with The Atlantic: “It’s like, ‘Oh look, these five items that we made are sustainable, but the rest of the 2,000 items on our website are not .'”31

“The issues are systematic: responsibility must travel up the chain to be shouldered by both the brands themselves for their commitment to keeping the cost of their products so low and by the consumers who have got used to paying so little.”32

Man wearing coat with "Sale" tags all over it, as well as shopping bags. Depicts shopping for clothing at clothing or department stores.
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Our Role

“Fast fashion makes us believe we need to shop more and more to stay on top of trends, creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction.”33

We’ve all supported it at some point, probably mistakenly. We found a great deal on a cute cardigan or funny t-shirt and bought it. Buying new clothes, especially when they’re on sale, brings pleasure to our brains. “This means of instant gratification from the fast fashion complex is a recipe for disaster for our brains, our wallets, supply chains, and the planet.”34 But we have to stop supporting fast fashion now. 

Think about the human factor. Every time we purchase from a company that does not follow ethical labor standards or pays poor wages, we are supporting the mistreatment of our fellow human beings. “We are rarely asked to pay the true cost of fashion. The pollution, carbon emissions, waste, and poverty our clothes create aren’t tallied up and included in the prices we enjoy. It does cost a bit more to do things the right way, to operate safer, well-paying factories and farms and to use longer-lasting, sustainable materials and craft more durable products. Ethical and sustainable clothing doesn’t have to be unaffordable, though,” wrote Elizabeth L. Cline.35

We can do better. Follow my upcoming series to learn more about clothing production and learn what you can do differently. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

Large well lit clothing store with racks of clothing and stacks of shoes.
Photo by Alexander Kovacs on Unsplash.

Additional Resources:

Article, “10 Fast Fashion Brands We Avoid At All Costs,” by Christine Huynh, Good On You, April 30, 2021.

Website, The Magazine of the Sierra Club: Elizabeth L. Cline author page.

Blog, Elizabeth L. Cline Books.

Publication, “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future,” Ellen MacArthur Foundation, November 28, 2017.

The True Cost cover artFilm, The True Cost (2015)

 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

The Tiny House Movement: The Concept

Photo of a tiny house lit up in the dark with night time sky above.
Photo by Cloris Ying on Unsplash.

The tiny house movement is a concept about intentional living. It looks different for everyone and encompasses many sizes, types, and forms of housing The notion of “right-sized housing” refers to housing that is the ‘right size’ for an individual or family. The tiny house movement was once believed to be “just a fad” or a quick trend. But when viewed against soaring housing costs, oversized homes, and housing shortages with environmental problems, it is easy to see why the concept of tiny home living is continually growing and here to stay. Macy Miller of minimotives.com says that this movement is highest in countries with the largest carbon footprints because it is a response to high costs and a housing shortage. Not because of a trend.

“Tiny houses solve more problems than they create,” -Macy Miller

Small wood shingled A-frame house in the forest.
A-frame cabin, photo by Travis Grossen on Unsplash.

Tiny Houses Take Many Forms

According to the International Residential Code, Appendix Q: Tiny Houses, a tiny house is a “dwelling unit with a maximum of 37 square meters (400 sq ft) of floor area, excluding lofts.”

        • RVs or travel trailers
        • Converted airstreams or buses
        • THOWs (tiny house on wheels)
        • Tiny houses or small houses on foundations
        • Prefab houses (manufactured, mobile, modular)
        • Houseboats, yachts, and even sailboats
        • Yurts
        • Converted carriage houses, garages, or sheds
        • Converted barns and silos
        • Container homes
        • Barge homes or Floating homes (houses built on a barge)
        • Granny Pods (actually an Accessory Dwelling Unit created for aging parents)
        • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, aka mother-in-law apartments)
Turquoise tiny house with red door, on wheels.
Micro-house, photo by Paul VanDerWerf on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Tiny House TV shows

I enjoy watching many of the tiny house TV shows. Initially, I watched them out of curiosity, thinking, why would anyone want to live in such a small space? But then I started to understand living intentionally and sustainably, and the idea of living mortgage-free took hold. So those shows are what inspired me from the start. But they manufacture misconceptions about tiny house living and leave out a lot of details, such as zoning and building laws. For example, tiny houses are not free. They can cost significantly less than a traditional-sized home but can still be pricey. Only some are off-grid; many have electrical and plumbing systems. While there are some people who build their own tiny homes, many purchase them from tiny house building companies.

Aqua floating container house, 5-6 storage containers with windows, doors, and stairs, stacked into a unique house on the water.
Floating container house, photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash.

Living Legally

It is sometimes quite difficult to figure out how to live legally in tiny homes. Many laws disallow tiny or small houses. In some situations, municipalities only allow them for short-term rentals, not permanent or full-time residences. The laws are sometimes even discriminatory.

Generally, small houses are more affordable for lower-income families, but new subdivisions rarely allow them. Mobile homes, long associated with poor people, are not desirable in typical neighborhoods because of that stigma. Typically, most subdivisions require house sizes to be slightly larger than a mobile home. Many subdivisions, or even whole communities, require minimum square footage for new home construction on empty or open lots. These often range from 1200 square feet to 2500 square feet. Some also have a requirement for all the walls to be equal lengths to make a square, instead of a rectangle like a mobile home.

“You can’t just buy a piece of property and set a house on it; none of those things are legal. You can’t just live in your tiny house full-time; those things aren’t legal.” -Hannah Crabtree, tiny house designer 

White and navy boat with red crab, on the water.
Photo by Nick Kidd on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Zoning

Zoning laws outline what type of structure you can put on specific land. These determine minimum square footage, property restrictions, and allowances. They vary by municipality and are often antiquated. They must allow for small structures if you want to build small.

Zoning laws are municipal or local laws that govern how property can and cannot be used in certain areas. For example, zoning laws can limit commercial or industrial use of land to prevent oil, manufacturing, or other types of businesses from building in residential neighborhoods. Examples of zoning classifications include industrial, light industrial, commercial, light commercial, agricultural, single-family residential, multiunit residential, and schools.

“It can be tricky to navigate both codes and zoning.” -Tracey Harris

Tiny house on wheels, rounded/oval shape, beige and wood tones, solar panels on roof, and small deck with stairs.
Photo by Harry Pepelnar on Unsplash.

Building Codes

Building codes dictate how a structure is built. They indicate requirements for ceiling heights, foundations, emergency escape access, sleeping lofts, loft access by stairs and ladders, etc. The most important distinction is whether you plan to travel, meaning using your house as an RV, or if you plan to live in your home full-time in one place. The laws and rules are different for both. If you plan to both live in your home full-time and travel, most of the time your house will be classified as an RV.

The International Residential Code (IRC) governs structures that you’re able to live in. Officially, it is a comprehensive code that comprises all building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, and electrical requirements for one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses up to three stories.IRC sets a national standard but local jurisdictions must adopt appendices and they’re able to make their own amendments.

Appendix Q was approved for inclusion in the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC) building code to provide regulations and standards for tiny houses on foundations that are 400 square feet or less. Appendix Q relaxes various requirements in the body of the code as they apply to tiny houses, and addresses specific tiny house challenges such as compact stairs, including handrails and headroom, ladders, reduced ceiling heights in lofts, and guard and emergency egress, and rescue opening requirements of lofts.

Unfortunately, not every jurisdiction or municipality has adopted Appendix Q, so check where you want to build first.

Two story treehouse with spiral staircase, wooden, in a wintery forest, dog in foreground.
Treehouse, photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) governs vehicles and RVs , and tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) often fall under this code. Some tiny home builders use their own version of the ANSI code (sometimes called ANSI Plus). RVIA, or the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, developed the standards. Some RVs and tiny homes have an RVIA certification, a set of safety standards specifically for RVs. Note that RVIA does not allow owner-built tiny homes. Zoning codes for where the land where RVs and THOWs are usually different than other types of homes and must also be followed.

Mobile homes must be built to certain federal construction standards determined by HUD, or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Note that HUD does not govern tiny houses.

Houseboats on water, one gray and one dark turquoise, both two story.
Houseboats, photo by melystu on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Terminology

Even the terminology is confusing. Here is an overview of the types of tiny houses:

Prefab Homes

Prefab refers to prefabricated homes. Companies build these off-site and then place them on a piece of land and/or on a foundation. They are meant to stay in one place and not travel.

Manufactured homes: are factory built and then placed on a piece of land. “These homes are built on wheels, transported to the property site, then fitted onto a foundation.”

Mobile homes: a type of manufactured house built on a permanent chassis and transported and placed on a lot. These must be HUD compliant, and a “compliant home must display documentation known as a ‘data plate’ inside and a ‘certification label’ on the back end of the house.” Removal of these is illegal and there’s no way to replace them.

Modular houses: These are factory-built in whole, boxlike sections or ‘modules.’ Then they are installed and fitted together to complete the house. “The main difference between manufactured and modular homes is that manufactured homes are built to the national HUD code, while modular homes are built to all applicable state and local building codes. This is similar to the way traditional site-built homes are constructed.”“Because these modules must be transported by flatbed truck to the job site, they are limited to being no more than 16 feet wide – the legal ‘oversize load’ width limit for highways.”

Panel-built houses: “Panel-built houses are constructed as separate pieces – walls, floors and roofs are factory-built then shipped to the job site to be assembled.” Also called ‘flat-pack’ because the finished walls and floors are stacked for easy transport.

RV camper with front patio with people sitting, dusk sky in background.
Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash.

Homes that travel or are considered temporary:

RVs: Recreational vehicles, also called motor homes, travel trailers, or fifth wheels. They are made for traveling and are always considered vehicles. For a tiny house RV, follow ANSI (American National Standards Institute) codes 119.5 and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1192. Those are both more lenient than construction codes because they are not meant for primary residences.

Interior of a Skoolie, or a bus that has been turned into a home. White walls and ceiling with wood floors, shows kitchen in foreground and living areas in background.
Interior of a Skoolie, or a bus that has been turned into a home. Photo by Sera Isabella Artistry on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Note: Certifications are important with tiny homes because they are regulated. ‘Inspection’ is not regulated and can mean different things in different places. Another note: Different states have different laws and building codes, so if you buy a tiny home in a different state from where you live, you can be in violation and have to move, if caught. Also, be aware of where a tiny house was built versus where you will reside in it. Was it built to withstand freezing temperatures or for a warm place like the desert?

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Above is one of my favorite THOWs. It has a double staircase to a bedroom loft on each end, with a twin bed platform with built-in shelves in one of the lofts – perfect for a child’s bedroom. This home offers tons of natural light as well, with lots of windows and skylights.

Park Models: are designed and manufactured specifically to be used for temporary, seasonal, or recreational use, and are not meant to be used as permanent residences. “These are legally considered to be recreational housing and cannot be used as primary residences in most jurisdictions.”

Yurts: Circular domed tents covered with skins, felt, or fabric stretched over a collapsible lattice framework. These can be portable or permanent and are classified differently in different places. Carefully research these before purchasing and building.

Brown yurt with white roof, cloudy sky background.
Photo by Forest and Kim Starr on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Permanent homes:

Tiny Houses on foundations: Small homes under 1000 square feet. These must follow local zoning and building codes, including minimum size requirements.

Container homes: these are made from repurposed steel shipping containers that were previously cargo containers used on ships, trains, or trucks. They are often far cheaper than new house construction and are environmentally friendly. These must follow local building codes like modular and site-built homes.

Container house, multiple containers, blue, white, red, lots of windows, stacked for two stories.
Container house, photo by Edward on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs): Also called add-ons, built-ons, mother-in-law apartments, granny pods, detached bedrooms, backyard cottages, etc. Contractors usually build these according to IRC and local residential codes. There is a push for tiny houses to fall under this designation. See the different types of those in the following image:

Diagram of six types of Accessory Dwelling Units.
Types of Accessory Dwelling Units. Image by Joiedevivre123321 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Water Homes:

For water homes, things can get a little confusing. You will need to research the local laws where you intend to keep the boat. Generally, people use the terms houseboats, boat houses, and floating houses interchangeably, but they are all different.

Houseboats: are homes built on floating platforms. “They have a fully-equipped cockpit and a high-speed motor that helps you propel and steer your boat.”

Boat Houses: Floating buildings where people store yachts and other marine vehicles, like a garage. People don’t usually live in these.

Floating Houses: Floating houses and houseboats are similar in their construction, but floating houses do not have their own propelling mechanisms. These require a tug boat to move them, so most float stationary at one location.

People do live full-time in other types of boats, such as yachts and sailboats, and either travel or have long-term leases with a marina. Try to connect with people in your area that live part or full-time on a boat, and contact local marinas to see what advice they can offer.

Shanty boat on the water, ivory colored siding with windows.
Photo of Harry Bryan’s Shanty Boat design, available for purchase at harrybryan.com/products/shanty-boat.

Financing

There are companies that offer financing for tiny homes but do your research. Some tiny house building companies offer financing, but the interest is much higher than conventional mortgage interest. It’s difficult to get a mortgage for a tiny house, especially, on wheels because there’s no property to tie the loan to. You often have to have your own money to buy a tiny house. 

Financial institutions sometimes consider an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) as a remodel to an original home, and therefore may qualify for a mortgage or home improvement loan (which is essentially a second mortgage since it puts a lien on your main property).

Blue house on a floating barge, with a deck and plants, windows, etc.
House on a barge, photo by richie rocket on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Contrast adjusted from original.

If You Want To Go Tiny

If you want to live in a tiny home, regardless of what that looks like, you’ll need to pursue it diligently. Research online, and talk to tiny home builders, real estate agents, and the local zoning office. Look for areas that have incorporated areas, that don’t have zoning, or that already have tiny house communities and/or residents. Search “[your city] + tiny house” online to see if they are allowed. Use the Additional Resources below.

Tiny house author, dweller, and advocate Melanie Copeland says that if tiny living isn’t allowed where you live, the best thing you can do is to get involved and press for change. Collaborate with like-minded people, and attend zoning and planning meetings. Lee Pera, a tiny house expert and advocate, also says to get involved in local tiny house groups, either in person or online.

Sometimes, there aren’t laws in local jurisdictions that expressly address tiny homes. In those cases, you cannot obtain permits. I’ve heard that if you must take a risk and park or build a tiny house, establish good relationships with neighbors and most won’t report or complain. But don’t ever lie to the fire department for obvious safety reasons.

While I still reside in an area that is not friendly to the tiny house movement, the city is finally allowing ADUs as of 2022 after having banned them since 1961. That’s a big step in the right direction. In the meantime, it’s time for me to join a local tiny house group myself. Please feel free to comment and share your own tiny house journey. Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

White with blue trim tiny home over water and on stilts. Blue sky above.
Tiny house over water, image from Hippopx, Creative Commons license, (CC0 1.0)

Additional Resources:

Tiny House Consultants (or those sharing their knowledge):

Jay Shafer Tiny HousesThe Tiny House: Ethan Waldman, a tiny house builder, advocate, author, and host of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast. Also host of the annual Tiny House Summit.

MiniMotives Tiny Home, Macy Miller

Tiny House People | Facebook

Niche Design Build: Lina Menard, Tiny House Consultant, Architect, and Teacher

Vina’s Tiny House

Smaller Living Huge Life: Brenda Mason Parmelee, Tiny House speaker,  best-selling author, and downsizing consultant. Learn how to declutter!

The Tiny House Concierge: Alaska Wagoner, writer and tiny house consultant.

Living Big In A Tiny House youtube channel

Fy Nyth: Ariel C. McGlothin, living in a tiny house on wheels and off-grid

 

Tiny House Land & Law

Tiny House Industry Association (THIA)

The Giving Tree Family: Consulting on legal living.

Tiny Home Law Book: Jenifer Levini, a housing, real estate, land use, and business attorney.

The Tiny House Zone: Lee Pera, placement and zoning for tiny homes.

Tiny House Expedition: Alexis Stephens & Christian Parsons, how to live legally

Land Stories podcast: Dave Denniston, how to buy rural land for tiny living.

Tiny House Alliance USA

Tiny Estates

American Tiny House Association

 

Tiny House Design & Build

Sol Haus Design

A Tiny Good Thing: Sells high-performance and healthy building materials, ventilation units, appliances, practical goods, etc.; offers consultations on building better and healthy in tiny homes and ADUs.

3D Tiny House Designer

Liberation Tiny Homes 

Yestermorrow Design/Build School Tiny House Design

PAD Tiny Houses

Footnotes:

Climate Change is no joke

Climate Change: A Timeline funny chart/infographic
Permission to use granted by the author, Brendan Leonard/Semi-Rad(https://semi-rad.com/).

Climate change is no joke, though I have to admit, the above comic is pretty funny – but too true to reality. We spent decades arguing about whether it was a real issue, though the science was always there. Then we argued about whether or not humans were inducing or speeding up climate change, though the science was always there. Then came oops, when we realized that the science was correct and had always been there. Now we are at f***, though the science was always there.

As scientist F. Sherwood Rowland, who with Mario Molina first predicted ozone depletion, said in 1989, “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

We wasted decades arguing. Decades when we could’ve put sustainable changes into practice, when climate change was a future problem, long before there was a crisis.

“The ice we skate is getting pretty thin. The water’s getting warmer so we might as well swim.” -Smashmouth, All Star, 1999

A polar bear, face palming, in a desert on a tiny patch of ice.
Image by Peter Schmidt from Pixabay.

Climate deniers

Ninety-seven percent of the scientific community agrees that the planet is warming as a result of human action, specifically from fossil fuel emissions. “The fossil fuel industry and their proxies in denier groups like the Global Climate Coalition have used the imagined disagreement in the scientific community as a public relations talking point for years. ‘Emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions’ and ‘urge a balanced scientific approach,’ reads an internal memo from Exxon in 1988,” Kale Williams wrote.

“A climate scientist and a climate change denier walk into a bar. The denier says, bartender, show me your strongest whiskey. The bartender says, this one here. It’s 95 percent alcohol. The denier slams down his fist and leaves the bar in a hurry. The scientist says, you know, that’s the problem with these guys. You show them the proof, and they still don’t buy it.”

But the Weather Is Changing

“Cold weather is proof that the climate isn’t warming, they argue, but extreme weather on the other end of the thermometer – heat waves and droughts – doesn’t prove anything. They point to the fact that the climate has always changed, which is true, but refuse to acknowledge the rate at which it’s currently changing, that temperatures are predicted to rise twenty times faster over the next hundred years than they did during previous periods of warming. They cherry-pick data, choosing specific statistics that support a contrarian opinion, when all the data taken together points to a different conclusion.”

“Many, many volumes published by thoughtful people have covered the ways in which man-made carbon emissions are changing the environment and the planet we live on. I have no interest in reciting what is settled science. And the truth is, you don’t need to study the science to see its effects. In nearly every place I travel in the United States, people come up to me and discuss how different the weather has become, even in the last decade.”5

“We haven’t found a solution for climate change yet, but… …we’re definitely getting warmer.” -Unknown author

Black and white image of two men talking in a room, with an elephant on a pedestal in the room, in the background.
Image by David Blackwell on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The Elephant in the Room

Few people seem to want to confront the fact that the Earth is largely overpopulated. We are now at 8 billion people across the planet, and that stretches the planet’s resources. Resources that we already overexploit and pollute. As Andrew Knoll, Harvard Professor of Natural History, wrote, “The very innovations that have allowed us to feed and clothe more than seven billion people now grip the Earth in an increasingly tight vise…agriculture now takes up half of Earth’s habitable surface, displacing plants, animals, and microorganisms that once thrived on these lands. We also challenge natural ecosystems through pollution, affecting air and water, soil and the sea. Of course, pollution exacts a human toll, be it unbreathable air in Delhi or undrinkable water in Flint, Michigan.”

Protest sign, Who Let The Smog out? Who, who, who, who?, as a parody of the song Who Let the Dogs out
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The Earth Will Go On

We don’t need to save the planet; we need to save ourselves. We need to protect humans. The Earth will remain without us. Why won’t we do what we need to do to protect ourselves? As filmmaker and environmentalist Rob Stewart wrote, “We are our own asteroid. Our consumption of fossil fuels has released – is releasing – a store of carbon into the atmosphere that has been accumulating for hundreds of millions of years. Corals, plankton, predators: everything in the ocean is screaming at us to stop. If we don’t listen and take action right now, we could be witnesses to the death of most life on earth. We will be the cause of that death. What will survive are the hangers-on, the muck dwellers. The ocean – dark, barren and unproductive – will remain much the same for them. Over time they will evolve and very gradually repopulate. In millions of years, new animals will once again develop the capacity to build reefs, the oceans will neutralize themselves and life will return to normal.”7 The Earth has already gone through five mass extinctions, and it will survive our own extinction.

It’s Up To Us

We are the only ones that can fix our problems. At this point, it is unlikely that we can reverse the effects of climate change. But we can try to slow the avalanche of coming problems in the forms of sea level rise, weather extremes, and fossil fuel consumption. We can do it. As Nancy Knowlton, former Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution, wrote, “Big scary problems without solutions lead to apathy, not action…small steps taken by many people in their backyards adds up.”8 We have the power and we need to come together as a globe to save ourselves.

In the meantime, enjoy some additional climate humor! Maybe if we can laugh together, we can also work together.

Climate change is no joke, but climate change denial can be almost comical. This Gus Speth quote says it best:

“I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” —Gus Speth, Author and Top U.S. Advisor on Climate Change

Thank you for reading, please share and subscribe!

 

Footnotes:

Hefty EnergyBag Program

Hefty Energy Bag Program Starter Kit with informational card, orange trash bag, and plastic film.
Hefty Energy Bag Program Starter Kit, received October 21, 2022. Photo by me.

In October 2022, I received this Starter Kit in my mailbox (wrapped in plastic film). This program claims to be a solution for recycling all of the non-recyclable plastics that come into our daily lives. Items must be rinsed or cleaned first, of course, and they don’t accept everything. Items they will accept include yogurt containers, Styrofoam or polystyrene take-out containers, plastic packaging, plastic straws, and many others. For a full list please refer to the graphic below. They do not accept items that you can already recycle in your area, such as any plastics #1 and #2. They also do not accept #3 PVC plastics.

Hefty Energy Bag program mailer
Hefty Energy Bag program mailer.

The program admittedly sounded exciting, but over the years of doing this, I’ve learned to be skeptical. With this program, I could now recycle all my non-recyclable plastics with this mostly convenient Hefty EnergyBag Program and honestly, it felt too good to be true. So I started looking into it.  When I first looked up their website, using the QR code from the mailer, they did not include Tennessee – the closest was Atlanta, Georgia.

Screenshot of their locations from Hefty's website
Screenshot of their locations from Hefty’s website, captured on October 23, 2022.

I started by reaching out to them through their Contact Us page and asked why I received the mailer if the program wasn’t available in my area. A week later, they updated their website and responded to me. They said I could take items bagged in the orange bags to our local recycling center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They sent the mailers out just a couple of weeks too early.

How does the program work?

Let’s break this down so we can understand how it works. I follow the order on the company’s mailer. This information is also available on their website.1

Hefty Energy Bag program mailer
Hefty Energy Bag program mailer.

#1: “Consumers must purchase Hefty EnergyBag product.”

The bags, which you must purchase at your own cost, cost about $10.49 per box of 26. This amounts to under $0.41 per bag. Seems cheap, but when compared to Hefty Strong Tall Kitchen Drawstring Trash Bags in the same size (13 Gallon ), those are about $0.18 per bag. That means these special orange bags are more than double the cost of regular trash bags. So right at the beginning, the company is shifting the cost to the consumers. Hefty makes many plastic products that you’re already paying for, so why aren’t they covering the cost of the bags if they really want to do the right thing?

#2: “Hard-to-recycle plastics get collected in the bag.”

Consumers are once again given the responsibility of not only collecting all the items into the special bags, but also understanding which items are and are not eligible.

#3: “Full tied bags can be dropped off at any of the designated recycling centers in the area.”

It refers to their website for locations. The bags are not collected curbside; they must be dropped off at a designated place. Where I live, I must take the bags to the recycling center. I’m not sure of the reason for this. While some people will participate, many residents won’t recycle anything unless it is picked up curbside. 

#4: “The normal recycling truck collects and delivers the bags to a local Recycling Facility (MRF) as a part of normal service.”

This statement is confusing since it seems like they mean the curbside recycling truck will pick it up as part of the normal service, but it means that the orange bags will be collected at the recycling center on a regular basis and taken to the MRF facility.

Buckhorn Mesa landfill in Arizona, image shows mountain of colorful trash and a bulldozer at top, clear blue sky in background.
Buckhorn Mesa landfill in Arizona, photo by Alan Levine on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

#5: “Bags are sorted at the MRF and sent to a facility for use as valued resources.”

This is where the process gets muddled because our local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) does not ship or sell plastics #3-#7. They landfill those materials. I’ve also read that most MRFs will not open and sort recyclables that are in plastic bags. Will they make an exception for the Hefty EnergyBag Program orange bags? I was curious to know if our local MRF, which is WestRock, has made a commitment to participate in this specific program, and if not, what will they do with the orange bags? I emailed Hefty (Reynolds Consumer Products is the parent company) with the following questions:

1) Your website indicates that these bags go to our local MRF for sorting. However, if our local MRF currently landfills plastics #3-#7, how do we know these items will get used for another purpose and not be landfilled?

2) Do you know if our local MRF is now participating in this Hefty program? Have they made a specific commitment for the Hefty EnergyBag Program?

3) Is it up to each individual MRF to decide what to do with the orange bags?

4) Have the MRFs preselected end-of-life partners (this term was extracted from your 2020 life cycle assessment)?

I wish I could include their response, but unfortunately, I have now sent this request 3 times and still have not received a reply.

More recently, I sent a list of similar questions to our local MRF, WestRock, but I have not yet received a response.2

#6: “The collected plastics can become an energy resource, feedstock for fuels or new products, or ground into smaller pieces to make new plastic building products and plastic lumber.”

Hefty indicates that these plastics can be reused to create energy, lowering our need for petroleum or new fossil fuels. On their website, under their header “PLASTIC WASTE IS MORE VALUABLE THAN YOU THINK,” they advertise that these plastics can be used for the following purposes:

      • Alternative fuel for manufacturing cement, reducing the need for natural resources like coal
      • Aggregate material for concrete blocks, plastic lumber, and other building products
      • New plastic products such as park benches, and Adirondack chairs
      • Feedstocks that can be refined into high-grade fuels or converted back into plastics

I wish plastic waste were actually valuable, because most of the time, it isn’t. Most plastics go to a landfill.

The above information came from a study that Reynolds Consumer Products commissioned, from the Sustainable Solutions Corporation, a company that helps envision and design sustainable solutions for companies. The “intended use of this study is to determine the environmental benefits of alternative end-of-life options currently utilized in the Hefty® EnergyBag® program compared to a traditional trash bag (Flex Bag) sent to landfill.” One of the main goals is “to create a more sustainable future by diverting this waste [from the landfill] and utilizing the material as a valued resource.”3

Full orange trash bag sitting on a street or sidewalk.
Photo from Rawpixel.com (CC0).

Does this mean the Hefty EnergyBag Program is a ploy?

Maybe. Hefty indicates that “the function of the Hefty® EnergyBag® orange bag is to serve as an alternative household waste bag to collect and divert difficult-to-recycle plastics from landfill.”4 A worthy goal, but I don’t know that it is actually happening. They are shifting the cost and effort to the consumer and the MRF. It also sounds like they are allowing the MRF to decide what to do with these items. However, most MRFs cannot sell “hard to recycle” plastics to manufacturers because there is just so much of it and it’s of little value.

In my area, I believe the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) landfills the plastics that the Hefty EnergyBag Program collects. Perhaps that will change soon, and if it does, I will update this article! But it is worth asking your local MRF if they are participating in this program. Be direct and let them know you’ll be spending extra money on these bags and that you’d like to know if they are able to sort and sell or ship the materials.

Marketing (or Greenwashing?)

Hefty wants all of this non-recyclable plastic, including the plastics they manufacture, to stop going to landfills. So they paid for a study showing how these plastics could be used. But they themselves have nothing to do with the recycling or end-of-life use of these plastics. So, Hefty looks like they are doing the right thing, while earning more profits from selling the orange bags. They are not stopping plastic production at the source, even within their own company.

Is this just an excuse to justify the continued production of single-use disposable plastic products?

This is likely just a marketing campaign in order to increase their appearance of sustainability. If Hefty wanted to make a real difference, they would cover the cost of the bags for consumers, and/or cover some of the costs for the MRFs to do the extra collection and sorting. Even more, Hefty could have those plastics sent to them directly and they could reuse them in their own products.

I imagine it will be easy to spot these bright orange bags in landfills 50 years from now.

I hope this is helpful. Thanks for reading, please share and subscribe!

 

Footnotes: