Monday, June 5, 2017

Cotton, Fashion and its Environmental Footprint

Courtesy: khongkitwiriyachan
In our culture, we churn through clothes. Cotton is a popular fiber but it has a huge environmental footprint. But Circular Economy solutions are coming to the rescue. Note that this doesn't excuse compulsive buying habits, but at least we can feel a bit better about our choices.


This article is written by Sue Ide, a colleague and member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, and is reprinted with her permission.
Sue Ide, ISSP certified Sustainability Associate ( sue.y.ide@gmail.com)



I LOVE cotton T-shirts! I wear them all year around. They are comfortable on my skin, easy to maintain, and has a variety of colors and designs. I don’t even bother counting how many cotton T-shirts, I have in my closet. I have cotton T-shirts I wear only once or Never wear at all, such free T-shirts given at the volunteer events, bought or given as a souvenir. It’s a memory… so I still keep it. However, I always wondered, do I really need all of them?


Cotton, also known as, The Thirsty Plant, requires a lot of water. In order to make 1 T-shirt, it uses 700 gallons of water. This can provide one person drinks for 900 days. Cotton not only uses a lot of water, but it pollutes the water. Cotton is Claimed for 20% of the world’s insecticide usage.

The Sustainable Cotton Project estimates that the average acre of California cotton grown in 1995 received some 300 pounds of synthetic fertilizers or 1/3 pound of fertilizer to raise every pound of cotton. Synthetic fertilizers have been found to contaminate drinking wells in farm communities and pose other long-term threats to farm lands.

“One of the commonly used pesticides on cotton throughout the world, endosulfan, leached from cotton fields into a creek in Lawrence County, Alabama during heavy rains in 1995. Within days 245,000 fish were killed over 16 mile stretch. 142,000 pounds of endosulfan were used in California in 1994”. 1

Now the situation is a bit different with GMO cotton. In 2013, 99 percent of the U.S. upland crop was planted in transgenic varieties –genetically engineered varieties resistant to worms, herbicides, or both. Let’s take a look at the Land. During the years 2010 through 2012, the average harvested area was 9.8 million acres. 2. Cotton is the 6th biggest farmland in the US. 3


Cotton is a very resource intensive and pollutive product. Is there a way to recycle cotton shirts to reduce the production of virgin crop?


Due to the nature of the fast fashion trend, 15% of garments in factories will never be used and directly disposed. One Third of clothes are never sold. In order to keep the brand value, it goes straight to the Landfill or incineration.

In the United States, 85 percent of the clothes in people’s closets will be thrown away.

The Planet Aid estimated that if 100 million of clothes are recycled instead of incinerated. It will save 300-400 million tons of CO2, which is equivalent to removing 26,000 – 36,000 cars off the road. It will reduce the resources of making new fabrics. Reduce land, reduce 2 million pounds’ insecticides and 140 billion gallons of clean water will be saved. 4

New technology of textile recycle is emerging. There is 2 ways of Textile recycling. Mechanical and Chemical (natural chemical. Nontoxic). Mechanical recycling is in place for years. It will bring clothes back to the fiber level by shredding. Then converted back to yarn to make new clothes. Because shredding damages the fiber quality. It can only be repeated for a few cycles.

Chemical is a new technology. It will change the fabric back to the cellulose level. It will bring old cloths back to virgin quality. Even the molecules of old and worn fiber qualify for reuse. The fibrous components of worn fabric can be separated and returned to textile production as raw material. The end result can be a product of equivalent quality to the original. 5

Major apparel chains such as H&M and Levi’s are the major supporters of the textile recycling. 6

You can find the Textile collection center near you at www.weardonaterecycle.org. 7




*1 Conventional Cotton Statistics: http://www.ecochoices.com/1/cotton_statistics.html


*2 Cotton FAQ: http://www.cotton.org/edu/faq/


*3 Farms and Farmland: https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Farms_and_Farmland/Highlights_Farms_and_Farmland.pdf


*4 Planet Aid:

http://www.planetaid.org/what-we-do/for-the-environment/recycling-textiles


*5 Chemical Processing: http://www.deakin.edu.au/research/research-news/articles/process-takes-textile-recycling-to-new-level


*6 GreenBiz:

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/nike-hm-reused-threads


*7 Where to donate:

http://www.weardonaterecycle.org/locator/index.php







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