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Map the life cycle of an item of clothing, consider the energy ...
Map the life cycle of an item of clothing, consider the energy, water, waste and ethics of each stage.<br />104775953770<br />While deciding what project to do I noticed this title. I realized this hoodie on my back that I take for granted didn’t just appear out of thin air. It has a long history behind it; it’s probably travelled half way across the world. There are so many questions behind it that I have never bothered to answer. At the end of the day I treat it as just another piece of clothing I throw on my bedroom floor after a long day. So why not get to know my hoodie a little better? Why not investigate the trouble it’s caused or even the trouble it’s going to cause? That is what this essay sets out. I’m going to track this hoodies life cycle and see what we learn.<br />STAGE ONE<br /> The supplier<br />This certain hoodie is 100% cotton and according to the tag it was made in china. So it is there the story begins. China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with cotton occupying a crucial position in the national economy and the basic means of livelihood for many Chinese. Growing and picking the cotton is a very clean business, due to lack of technology everything is done the old fashioned way in most cotton farms. This means a minimal amount of energy and water is used and waste is miniscule. The big issue here is ethics! There is no free market for cotton in China, and the farmer can sell cotton only to the State. In order to monitor and maintain control over the cotton process, responsibilities are given to different Ministries for the various stages of production, procurement, and processing. So the original farmers aren’t getting the advantage of setting their own prices. Ethically I do not believe this to be correct but the entire country is under this rule so id does not leave much room to argue. However this not a complete negative, the state offers incentives for surplus produce and quality of cotton. There always seems to be a silver lining. <br />After the immediate gathering of the raw products there must be a supplier involved who helps produce the item of clothing destined for the shelves of the western community. In this case I was able to locate one of the logo’s main clients, Luen Thai. My initial thought was to investigate the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility. What I found was a very professional, responsible and slightly vague statement.<br />“Luen Thai is committed to implementing and continuously improving strategic and sustainable programs on corporate social responsibility, which are aligned to company vision and values and customer standards. We are a leader in ethical business practices, employee care and environment stewardship.”<br />It’s to the point, clear and is exactly what people want to hear. So that’s all good there.<br />Now let’s move on to how much energy it takes to convert that cotton into a lovely looking hoodie. After harvesting, raw cotton goes through a cleaning and refining process before it is spun into thread and woven into cotton fabric on looms. As u can imagine this all takes energy, uses water and creates waste. The consumption of energy in form of water and electricity is relatively high, especially in processes like washing, de-sizing, bleaching, rinsing, dyeing, printing, coating and finishing. The major portion of water in textile industry is used for wet processing of textile. Approximately 25 per cent of energy in the total textile production like fibre production, spinning, twisting, weaving, knitting, clothing manufacturing etc. is used in dyeing. Water use can vary widely between similar operations as well. For example while researching water usage during these processes that in knit mills average 10 gallons of water per pound of production, yet water use ranges from a low of 2.5 gallons to a high of 45.2 gallons. Now this may not sound like an excessive amount but remember it’s per pound! An average 10 minute shower uses 25 gallons. That may be more but I weigh quite a number of pounds so it’s all relative. These manufacturing units need to reduce this water waste dramatically I believe. As is becoming more and more common knowledge water is becoming a scarcity. I realise it may sound ridiculous considering we live in a planet covered in vast oceans and sea’s but it is true none the less. <br />So let’s see, so far my hoodie has used 10 gallons per pound of its weight, this is not including irrigation water for the farming of cotton and enough energy to charge my I-pod through all the machines used. Quite the impact for an item early in its life cycle.<br />Stage 2<br />Packaging and Transport<br />The next step is to package the clothes and ship them off to its new home on a shelf in a store warehouse in the western world. This is where packaging comes into play. Do they just throw my hoodie into a big bulk container with hundreds of others like it? I doubt it, at the very least this new item of clothing is sealed in a plastic bag with a small number of similar items before being stored for shipping. Some cardboard and packaging foam is thrown in there somewhere as well. I know my hoodie may just be one item but this one item contributes to the staggering facts I found from the U.S EPA. <br /> The U.S. EPA estimates about 31 percent of all municipal solid waste in 2005 was generated from packaging-related material. This constitutes cardboard boxes, plastics and foam. This breaks down to about 39 million tons of paper/paperboard, 13.7 million tons of plastics and 10.9 million tons of glass. <br /> the average growth rate of container and packaging waste through 2010 is estimated to be about 1.8 percent annually. <br /> About 3 percent of all U.S. energy consumption comes from the production of packaging materials. Using recycled material for the production of packaging goods takes less energy than creating the product from the materials natural state. <br /> Packaging and containers makes up about 56 percent of all plastic waste.<br /> <br />This may be on a large scale but it gives you a sense of what our consumer driven economy is contributing too. <br />This is where I believe a company’s CSR should kick in. It is there duty to the environment and world community to set an example as a leading large scale company. They should pave the way for the rest of us by showing a genuine effort to use recyclable materials, reduce waste and promote environmentally friendly production methods. Despite the caring eco-friendly mask that many companies put on for the public these staggering figures uncover the truth behind the real way things are done. It has been calculated that recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space. For such small efforts there are such great rewards.<br />Now the products must be shipped. This includes a long haul shipment from China to the U.S. This long journey is taken on by enormous shipping vessels that require vast amounts of energy and as with most transport creates waste harmful to the environment. <br />So how much energy does it take to run one of these container ships? From rough figures, 0.25 lbs/hp/hr is considered to be pretty good for a container ship, also 100,000 hp is a low-side estimate of an average container ship's horsepower. Ships are run on bunker fuel. This then works out to 25,000 pounds of bunker fuel per hour. A common cruise speed is roughly 30mph after it is converted from knots. What this means is that for a container ship to travel 30 miles, it'll burn through 3600 gallons, which is the same as burning 120 gallons to go one mile. There are 5280 feet in a mile, so if 120 gallons is good for 5280 feet, then one gallon is burned every 44 feet!! Yes I know that is a lot of math but it shows these shipment vessels aren’t that efficient. We aren’t talking travelling a couple miles either, China to the U.S is more like it.<br />Usually the dirty gasses are vented below the ship so they are not immediately noticeable to be harming our environment. Vessels also pollute the air of oceans and coastal areas when they emit nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. This shows the direct link between the energy requirements and the waste produced through this one stage in the life cycle of that hoodie I take for granted. <br />At this stage of the process one must ask what else can we do? Yes this method of transport uses a lot of energy and has its negative impacts but so does every other method. Can we demand products be manufactured in our own countries? No I do not believe we can, it would damage other economies, put strain on our own and destroy global trade. It would not lead to a sustainable future. So ethically I cannot question this system that much. The best that can be done is keep working towards cleaner fuels and minimising gas emissions to protect the world around us. <br />However this is not the end of the transport process, the hoodie must make it from the warehouse to that shelf in a shop miles and miles away where it was purchased. This means more fuels, this means more emissions and more waste. All adding onto the expensive life this hoodie has had before even reaching my back.<br />Stage 3<br />Use<br />The time is finally here, the hoodie is mine! So you must think now that’s it. What more energy, waste and water can it possibly use and create? It’s the little things that build up. As a realistic estimate I would say this item of clothing gets washed on an average once to twice a week. So what powers the washing machine? That’s right electricity, more energy on account of my hoodie! So for one wash it may use 0.26kw/h from what I could gather and to think I could be washing that up to twice a week for 52 weeks in a year. It all builds up. Also if you’re living in a country such as ours where you are constantly blessed with rain you may want to use a dryer too. More energy! Electric dryer consumes a humongous 4kw/h. With that much energy usage and with the amount it rains in this country you would nearly be better off moving to Spain. It is possible now days to buy these household appliances based on their energy rating which has improved situations but not drastically. However people are becoming more and more aware of energy efficiency which is a step forward. The energy usage by just these two appliances for maintaining the item of clothing we have been tracking as shown can be rather expensive, especially when the hoodie is kept for a couple of years. <br />Throughout the time while in my care this hoodie also uses a vast amount of water. As stated before, I could be washing this item up to twice a week. For each wash my washing machine can use up between 10 and 24 gallons of water. At extreme levels I could be using 2496 gallons of water a year to keep my hoodie looking fresh. However this is with front-loading washers. There are those with top-loading washers. They are more common in the U.S but they are not nearly as efficient. These washers use up to 40 gallons per wash. A huge amount of water if you ask me, especially when it does the same quality was as a front-load washer. <br />The next issue is the way we treat our clothes in western society. After learning about the measures to get the hoodie into the consumer’s possession you may think it was all worth it if that person cherishes it for the rest of its days. That’s just not how things work unfortunately. We live in a fashion driven society where material objects take pole position in what matters. I learnt about a little thing called perceived obsolescence. This is what is ethically wrong with this stage. We allow ourselves to be influenced by the large manufacturers who change ‘the look’ every couple of years. This convinces us to throw out our old clothes and buy new ones. Somehow we think having the new fashion item demonstrates our value in society. An average life expectancy of a piece of clothing is roughly 3.1 years, and then you throw it away or hide it away. To some people that may sound like a lot but relative to the amount of energy and water used to make it and also to the waste created along the way I think that length of time is criminal! Keeping up demands that we shop more than ever leads to seriously overstuffed wardrobes. We can't accommodate the excess so we throw it away. Roughly an average of 68 pounds' worth per person annually! It is possible to explore further into the dark ethical side of how clothes are treated (especially with hoodies like my own). Questions should be asked such as am I efficient enough when washing my hoodie? Do I ensure there is a full load on to minimise water usage per item? Do I put the hoodie in a dryer for the sake of it and waste electricity? The truth is the majority of us are just not that responsible. <br />Stage 4<br />Disposal<br />So the life of the hoodie is coming to an end, well it is in my possession anyway. At this stage a hoodie can go two ways; donated to charity or recycled material. The bright side is it is not being left on a land fill somewhere to clog up our global environment. If it is being donated then the life cycle starts again, but only begins in the transport stage getting a head start in life. You could argue that this is great, double the use out of a piece of clothing! However you must not forget this can also mean double the amount of energy and water it uses up and who knows how many times this life circle can go on for. The hoodie must be transported to the charity shop or even across sea’s to those who are in more need of clothing. This is all very taxing in the energy department I believe. Then it’s off into the usage stage and back to the washing and drying.<br />Another method is if the hoodie was too damaged for donation then it can be recycled. Recycling cloth and textiles saves energy and reduces pollution that would result from transportation and particularly the dyeing and colour fixing processes applied to new, raw cloth. In particular, recycling really helps in this case by saving water, which is used in large quantity to wash and treat raw cloth. This I think is a great method of dealing with disposed of clothes. It’s environmentally responsible and just a smart idea in general. This process of recycling cloth, textiles and fibres reduces waste being put in landfill sites. I believe this needs to be advertised more, it is a great process and is not fully being taken advantage of. There are too many clogged up wardrobes over filling with old clothes. Mine included.<br />So there you have it, my hoodie didn’t just appear out of thin air onto my back. Truth be told it has travelled more than me and probably has a higher carbon footprint then a small child. So next time you look to buy that special item with the fancy brand logo on it just have a little think about the energy and water it has used, the waste it has contributed too and the ethics behind its existence. You will be surprised with what you find.<br />Darragh Hannan (09006749)<br />