The Clothesline Comeback


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Project Laundry List logo
Members of Project Laundry List
Project Laundry List members
Project Laundry List logo
Members of Project Laundry List

If Alex Lee has his way, the clotheslines of yesteryear will once again find a place in every backyard in America—yes, even at the White House. His organization, Project Laundry List (PLL), is a force behind the national movement that promotes air-drying and cold-water clothes washing as a simple and effective way to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Grassroots educational and advocacy campaigns bearing clever laundry puns—“Stop the Plants! Hang Your Pants!” and “We’re in hot water, if we don’t use cold!”—have put a lighthearted spin on the cause, but the urgency for altering the American way of doing laundry is no joking matter, according to Lee.

 “We’re the only country in the world that spends more than 6% of our electricity bill on clothes drying and relies on the tumble dryer for most of our clothes drying,” says Lee, a former attorney who quit his day job to run the organization full time. “And what’s most frightening is that we’ve developed this misguided thinking that energy and resource efficiency will solve all of our energy problems, but it’s not enough to be efficient. We need to change our behavior.”

Since its start in 1995, the nonprofit group has been helping communities get the word out with events and activities ranging from clothesline art exhibits to drying-rack design competitions.

On a national scale, the group recently launched an online petition requesting that the Obama family line-dry their clothes on the White House lawn, as former presidents have done in the past. The hope, Lee says, is that the White House will set an example for the rest of the country and the world.

“The thing that keeps me up at night,” Lee says, “is that every person in China, India, and the rest of the developing world wants what we have and may someday trade in their clotheslines for dryers. And when that happens, it is not going to matter how energy efficient the dryers are.”

In addition to pushing for widespread adoption of clotheslines, the group champions for cleaner energy alternatives, such as small hydro-electric, solar, and wind projects. The group has also played an incremental role in instituting cold-water laundry washing practices in Missouri and New Hampshire state prisons.

But the real cornerstone of the group’s ongoing work is its “Right to Dry” campaign, which aims to stop the bans on clotheslines imposed by some homeowner associations, zoning laws, and landlord restrictions across the country.  The group partnered with the Community Associations Institute to help develop and implement rule changes that will allow residents of community associations nationwide to hang their clothes and participate in other “green” activities. Most recently, Lee provided testimony that helped Democratic Senator Richard McCormack include a “Right to Dry” provision in Vermont’s energy bill that passed last year.

The standard that all states should strive for, Lee says, is the Florida law that allows clotheslines everywhere. Utah, Maine, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed similar laws, while another five states are considering measures that will also prohibit sanctions against clotheslines.

“But the real problem,” Lee says, “is not the millions of Americans who are prohibited from hanging their clothes outside, it is that people refuse to take the time to do an essential task that will save energy. Using clotheslines and drying racks instead of gas or electric dryers is something easy and affordable that we can do. So why shouldn’t we?”

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