Such an idyllic scene. Clean sheets blowing in the breeze. The sun warming the fabric (100% organic cotton, I’m thinking), filling it with the scent of the outdoors.
These days, with Americans disagreeing on issues from bathrooms to vaccines, you’d think clotheslines — their existence, their value, their esthetic — would be pretty far down the list of causes to examine. Turns out, our planet’s economic and environmental future hangs on this unlikely thread, the clothesline.
Did you know that your clothes dryer uses more electricity than your refrigerator?
I didn’t either.
Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimate households in the Northwestern states use 4.3 % of their annual electricity consumption to dry laundry. Compared to the 3.5% from refrigerators. (They didn’t mention if those were self-defrosting refrigerators.)
Here’s how the issue settles out.
On the down-with-clotheslines side, we have various homeowner associations, condominium boards, and trailer park owners, all worried about property values, who have established bans on outdoor clotheslines across the country.
On the pro-clothesline side, (aka, the-right-to-dry movement) we have Project Laundry List out of Concord, NH, whose goal is “to make air-drying and cold-water washing laundry acceptable and desirable as simple and effective ways to save energy.” There are other groups, I’m sure, but Project Laundry List has a website where they list the top ten reasons to line-dry and a Facebook Page (Drying for Freedom).
According to the website grist.org, The New York Times has reported that the typical US household could prevent 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year by simply turning off its dryer and hanging the clothes outside in the sun. AND, as an aside, dryers cause more than 12,000 residential fires annually.[editorial note here: I could not find this NYTimes article. 2021 update: the Grist.org article is now also missing.]
Then there is the electricity industry — where the politics comes in — which has, from 1945, promised “we could live better electrically.” That’s a link to a 1950s era commercial that features some familiar faces. Take a peak.
Want more? Here’s another with the same “cast.”
We did “live better” too. Electricity brought us toasters and dishwashers and vacuums and irons and heaters and coolers and ovens and ranges and power washers and toys. But it was based on an electric dream that increased the demand for coal across the globe where developing nations were beginning their own love affair with an electric utopia.
And has there ever been a Utopia that ended well?
“It seems like such a mundane thing, hanging laundry, and yet it draws in all these questions about individual rights, private property, class, aesthetics, the environment,” says British filmmaker Steven Lake, who crisscrossed the world to unravel the reasons and consequences for the banishing of the clotheslines in favor of tumble dryers. His documentary, DRYING FOR FREEDOM, “is a voyage into the new environmental battlefield where money, status and class come first and our planet is a poor second.”
Do you live in a “right to dry” state?
Here are the 20 states that are listed as “right-to-dry” states as of November, 2020. (yes, updated from my 2016 post)
Just remember, the next time you do your laundry,
Our future is hanging on the line.
(cute, huh? It’s not original with me.)
How about you? Where do you stand vis a vis your own clothesline?