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July 19, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Well Hung: How Your Clothesline Will Save The Planet

An extremely divisive environmental cause, fervently championed by the recent growth of the ‘Right To Dry’ movement in the United States, has caused ten states and three Canadian provinces to adopt or enact legislation in 2009 and 2010 specifically designed to overturn the bans which most homeowners’ associations place on “the installation of solar clothes-drying devices with renewable energy sources”—the garden-variety clothesline.

Landlords and homeowners on Team Tumble Dryer insist that they “don’t want to be looking at somebody’s underwear out the kitchen window”. Their main argument is that visible clotheslines decrease the aesthetic and commercial value of their property. Luckily, vociferous opposition exists from groups like Project Laundry List, which was recently voted’s June 2010 Member of the Month for their successes in raising awareness of the immediate, individually achievable environmental benefits of simply using a clothesline (or clotheshorse) as opposed to a dryer. Beyond its significant environmental advantages, using a clothesline also presents clear financial, personal, and even psychological advantages over using a dryer. Of the limitless possibilities for impacting positive environmental change, only one option happens to be lint-less.

Lurking in your laundry or your bathroom, the clothes dryer (not the solar-powered, rope kind) is one of the worst offenders on a scale of the sum of ozone-destroying greenhouse gases produced, also known as its carbon footprint. According to a study by Time Magazine, dryers alone emit up to one metric tonne of CO2 per household every year; for a flat of four people who wash and dry three loads of laundry every two weeks, this is roughly equivalent to 3300 square metres of deforestation per year. These figures seem especially staggering once we consider that they could be cut down to zero simply by choosing to use a clothesline, which generates no greenhouse gases and therefore has no carbon footprint.

Theoretically, the concept of a clothesline is the simplest way of harnessing renewable solar and wind energies. Figures on the Project Laundry List website say that only 8 per cent of American households line dry their laundry for five months of the year. If all of those who do not currently use a clothesline started to use one for ten months of the year, we could avoid 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually.

A 2008 Oxford University study showed that at least a third of carbon emissions savings in the residential sector comes from behavioural changes like line-drying. Furthermore, 80 per cent of the carbon emissions produced by a single pair of jeans comes from the energy used to dry them in a conventional clothes dryer. Once an emblem of economic success and prosperity, the clothes dryer has to many now become a quietly humming symbol of environmental disregard and ignorance.

All of these environmentally conscious benefits seem to be rewarded by the personal, practical benefits of owning and using a clothesline. Three of New Zealand’s largest energy companies—Meridian, Genesis and TrustPower—specifically recommend switching to a clothesline as a means of conserving about 6 per cent of the total energy used in a household, which is produced by a dryer alone. In an average New Zealand household using 12,000 kW of electricity per year, saving approximately 720 kilowatts by eliminating a dryer is equivalent to about $60 per year in energy savings, which in turn is equivalent to six bottles of Chat En Oeuf (described as a truly mouth-filling red wine packed with ripe berry fruit flavours, a touch of soft tannin and a subtle twist of spice and garrigue herbs) from The Mill.

Due to the natural disinfectant properties of sunlight, which is much less harsh on clothing fibres yet just as effective as bleach, red wine stains will remain a nuisance of your dryer days anyway. As a moderate form of exercise, the active yet calming routine of hanging up the clothes has been proven to help with weight loss, and its refreshing outdoor nature aids in the avoidance of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lint pulled from a dryer is a sign of how quickly clothes are worn out by being subjected to a weekly 45-minute tumble; more threateningly, dryer lint accounts for 92 per cent of laundry appliance fires, damage which results in 17,700 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 30 injuries every year in the United States (figures courtesy of Project Laundry list). As the Right to Dry movement is passionately aware, ‘hanging out’ is one of the simplest steps an individual can take to improve their personal laundry habits as well as minimise their carbon footprint and contribute to positive climate change.

Ultimately, the best reason for having (and the poorest excuse for not having) a clothesline is how easy, affordable and achievable they are to set up and use. Nylon rope (in neon colours, if you like to add a little something to your whites) and clothespins can each be purchased in large and dependable quantities from the $2 Shop on Cuba Street. New World, Moore Wilson’s, and most of the Sunday morning fruit and vege markets stock fragrant herbs like thyme and rosemary, which make your laundry smell wonderful when planted near or underneath your clothesline. If you don’t have room for an outside line, an indoor drying rack is available from most major New Zealand department and hardware stores for under $20. In addition to all of the carbon footprint-reducing benefits of an outdoor line, an indoor drying rack also serves to humidify a room during dry winter weather. The simple clothesline, and its proportionately extraordinary potential, proves that no individual act is ‘too small’ or ‘doesn’t matter enough’ to change the greater environment for the better.


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  1. Carla says:

    We’ve been using an indoor drying rack for years. It sits in the laundry room…or sometimes over the vents in winter for quicker drying. We used to have a clothesline outside, but didn’t like berry-stained bird poop and odd pollen stains (it was near a maple tree). Still, for two people, the indoor rack is fine…and nobody has to see our underwear but us!

  2. Nadiza says:

    I live in the USA and I’ve always line-dried during warm-weather months. Two years ago I started using drying racks for all my laundry during the winter. During this nearly 2.5 years of mostly air-drying the laundry, I have air-dried over 97.5% . Yes, there was a drop in the utility bills. Yes, the indoor quality of the air improved with the added moisture from drying laundry. And I have no intention of going back to using the dryer more frequently. Life is simpler. Clothes easier to fold and doing laundry does not feel like a chore.

  3. David says:

    I have been using a clothes line for probably ten years now….last year I built a 4-barrel line….each one is about 40′ long…..I have a large load washer and I can get 2 very full loads on the lines…….and in the winter I use my racks in close proximity to my woodstove…..I only use dryer to soften the things that need softening after they have been solar dried or dried on the rack…….and I am convinced that on a good sunny day I can dry clothes way faster than u could in the dryer……….those two loads that I hang on the line would be 4 loads in the dryer at 45 mins. to an hour each…… the right conditions I can dry all four of those dryer loads in one hour in the sun……just makes a whole lot of sense to me………..

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