The Life Cycle of a Shirt

Four months ago, if you asked me about the life cycle of any plastic product, let alone any product, I would have no clue. Something that has always interested me is fashion, and it is crazy how the production of clothes affects the environment. Fun fact fashion is the second-largest polluter!!! Any garment of clothing goes through at least five significant stages: material, production, shipping, use, and finally the disposal. A shirt usually starts on a farm in either America, China, or India, where cotton is made by farming. This means that things like fertilizing, harvesting, and irrigating are involved. Cotton uses more pesticides than other crops, and the pollutants are carcinogenic, which can affect the workers. Crazy, I know!

After the cotton is picked up, it is shipped to a facility where it is spun, knitted, bleached, dyed, cut, and sewed. This stage uses many dyes and bleaches, which contain toxic pollutants that can affect our water system. Once it turns into cloth, it then goes to factories where the shirt is sewn. These people go through horrible working conditions. They barely get paid anything and work long hours. Once the shirt is made, it gets transported to warehouses and retailers. This transportation causes a big carbon footprint which takes up 10% of carbon emissions.

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010.
Garment factory in Dhaka Bangladesh in the Mohakhali area.
Dhaka counts more than 4000 factories producing for export only.
This factory produced garments for the dutch company Hans Textiel.

Once the shirt gets purchased and has a home, it is worn over and over. This means it was washed and dried over and over, and the average person does up to 400 loads of laundry each year. Think about that…lots of water is used. Last but certainly not least of a shirt’s life cycle is when it gets thrown away. Cotton takes years to break down in a landfill, which means harmful emissions are released into the air.

Luckily, you can do many things—starting with not throwing away your clothes and donating them or selling them. Buying second-hand is an excellent way to reduce your impact. Even just after writing this, I am thinking about every shirt that I have purchased, and now I feel guilty. Starting now, I will start buying from companies that aim towards sustainability and buy second-hand (which I already do sometimes), and If I were you, I would too! Recently, I also started selling and donating my clothes instead of throwing them away, so that’s a start.


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