In 2005, not long after I had made a New Year’s resolution to stop accepting plastic shopping bags, I decided my family didn’t need plastic on any of our dry cleaning either.
If you are keen to live more sustainably, but still need a dry cleaner from time to time, I will first exhort you to find a service that provides “wet cleaning” methods, using cold water and mild detergent. Conventional dry cleaners still use perchloroethylene (aka “perc” or PCE) as a cleaning solvent on clothes. This is not an environmentally safe chemical, and when we employ it, inevitably some of it escapes the system—getting into groundwater, soil and air. When clothes have been steeped in perc, they off-gas. Suffice it to say, that’s a completely unnecessary thing to introduce into your home or your lungs. Check this directory to find a wet cleaner in your area: http://www.nodryclean.com/wet_cleaning.htm.
According to Edward Humes’s book, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” plastic covers for dry-cleaned clothing replaced plain brown paper starting in 1958—long before plastic shopping bags turned up in grocery stores (that was in 1977). Following the death of eighty children from suffocation in plastic dry-cleaning bags, the state of California attempted to ban them in 1959, but the plastic industry prevailed. And here we are today, still using them, but perhaps wondering why we are beating up the Earth and atmosphere to extract more non-renewable oil and gas to manufacture millions of disposable, single-use dry-cleaning bags.
I hope you will try my easy approach: Simply ask your dry-cleaner politely not to put your dry-cleaning in plastic. My dry-cleaner was more than happy to accommodate my request and I’m pretty sure you’ll get the same reaction. If they are interested and curious to know why, feel free to explain.
Admittedly, there’s a chance you might brush your newly retrieved, crisply pressed clothing against something dusty on the way home, but the odds are far better that you won’t.
Take it from this refusenik, you don’t need any plastic on your dry-cleaning. Next time, give it a try.