Sunday, April 24, 2011

Earth Lines

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA – This past Friday residents all over the United States celebrated the 41st Earth Day. This year’s theme was A Billion Acts of Green calling on people all over the country to make modest changes to their daily routines for the good of the environment -- like, for instance, drying your laundry outside on a clothes line rather than using an electric dryer. According to Project Laundry List, 80 percent of American households have dryers in their homes and millions more use them in apartment building laundry rooms or coin-operated laundromats. Just to put this in a more international perspective only four percent of Italy’s population have dryers in their homes. Clothes lines are the norm over there.

But using clothes lines in America is more difficult than one might think because over the better part of the last three decades many apartment, community, homeowner, and neighborhood associations have banned them. Why? I mean, how are clothes lines hurting anyone? Well, in America many think they hurt neighborhoods because they are too ‘ghetto’ or ‘trailer trash’, even though drying your laundry this way is a very green practice. To be sure, the presence of a clothes line is often seen as a sign that the neighborhood is going down hill and taking property values with it. The origins of this irrational and ridiculous perspective date back to the 1950's when only affluent households could afford dryers. As dryers became more affordable in subsequent decades, the clothes line became stigmatized.

Many of us who grew up in the 1970's fondly remember clothes lines. They were great places to play tag or hide and seek. And your clothes always smelled so fresh. I also very warmly associate clothes lines with my Irish grandmother. I spent a few years of my childhood living near London and I always knew we were getting close to her immigrated home in Liverpool when you could see the long rows of clothes lines from the train. At the end of one row she would be out there waving us into town. No one had a dryer there. In fact, they didn’t even have heat. But the ‘green’ practice of taking a hot water bottle to bed to put at your feet escaped the stigmatized fate of the clothes line.

Fortunately the tides are turning for clothes lines in America. A number of states including Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Utah and Vermont, have enacted laws to protect residents’ rights to use clothes lines. Let’s hope other states follow suit. Using a clothes line is as green as it gets, and one small way people from all walks of life can pitch in for a healthier earth. So the next time your see a clothes line think green not ghetto -- and consider using one outside your home.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter . You can contact her at

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