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.


Estee Lauder & Sustainability

A business I chose to investigate was Estee Lauder. They work to promote sustainability regarding plastic waste in all sorts of ways. Estee Lauder is a very well-known makeup company that most of you have probably heard of. Many things such as sustainable building operations and waste reduction have been significant parts to target environmental sustainability. Estee Lauder minimizes environmental impacts by reducing emissions and sending zero waste to landfills at their facilities.

The most significant part of the problem with makeup is the packaging because of the amount of plastic used. They are focusing on reducing the environmental impacts of a single package through its lifestyle. In 2020 they released guidelines to their developers to aim for sustainable packaging. By 2025 their goal is for 75-100% of their packaging to be recyclable, refillable, and reusable.

Their guidelines include:

–           Reducing and removing packaging where possible

–           Designing for reuse and refill ability

–           Building designed-in recyclability

–           Increasing amounts of Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) material in packaging

–           Replacing petroleum-based plastics with bioplastics (if the bioplastic can be recycled and does not contaminate the traditional recycling streams)

Estee Lauder is devoted to sourcing ingredients that have no impact on people or the future. Their goal is by 2025 that at least 90% of their palm-based ingredients will be certified sustainable.


“Sustainability has long been central to how The Estée Lauder Companies and its brands have operated and is a key part of our corporate strategy for the future. We know this work is more important than ever, and we are committed to accelerating our efforts to contribute to the health and well-being of people and the planet.”

Nancy Mahon, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability

This quote is significant because it’s essential for brands to focus on sustainability to help our future. Estee Lauder is very transparent in all the ingredients used, and it helps us better understand what we are using. Making sure you are purchasing from sustainable companies and doing your research can be very helpful. I know how to start doing more research before buying products. Hopefully, more big brands will begin to focus on sustainability because that is what will help our future one step at a time.

Plastic Art

Angela Pozzi, founder, and artistic director of washed ashore, created this nonprofit to save the sea. She directs all the members and volunteers to help grow a following. Angela grew up around art, and ever since she was a child, her art has incorporated recycled and repurposed materials. In 2004 she experienced the loss of her husband. To cope with his death, Angela would go to the ocean to help her. As she took her trips to the beach, she saw all the waste left on the shore. She started to research more and more, which led her to today, making art to save the ocean. Her nonprofit has collected over 35 tons worth of plastic on the Oregon coast, which has turned into over 85 sculptures. These sculptures represent endangered animals and sea life.

As you can see in this picture, the sculpture represents a fish. It is supposed to relay today’s sad reality. Many sea life creatures are ingesting plastic every day or getting suffocated by plastic items. Under the fish, you can see how their fishnet and tangled rope. Fish frequently get caught or tangled in things that are left in the ocean. This is our fault, and we continue to let this happen.

The sculpture pictured above is a bird. As you can tell, it’s not only sea creatures that are affected by plastic. It’s estimated that 99% of sea birds will have ingested some plastic by 2050. That is sad. Many birds see plastic floating on the surface and think it’s food and consume it. These plastic items can quickly kill birds.

Pollution art is when plastics are made into an artistic display. Like I stated earlier, most artworks represent sea life affected by pollution. These sculptures are meant to educate our community on ocean pollution. Seeing these pieces in real life impacts people to make a change rather than just simply hearing about it online. Most of the time, these pieces are placed on the beach, so when people see them, it encourages them to think twice about littering.

Overall, I think pollution art is an excellent concept to help educate people. So many artists are switching to this type of art to not only help save our environment but to educate people on the dangers of pollution. You can help to by participating in beach clean ups and donating your plastic to these artists to use in their next sculpture!!

Step By Step

Changing your lifestyle is not as easy as it might seem. I never really thought about how difficult it actually is cutting out plastic until recently. If you asked me 2 months ago to think about the plastic items I used daily I could only think about a couple things. It wasn’t until I created a list on how much I use in a day. Since making that list I have started cutting it down item by item. But there’s only so much I can do. It is fairly easy to stop using plastic water bottles and bags but when it comes to makeup, food, and grocery items it can be difficult. Everyday I wake up use the same hair, face, and cleaning products that are all made of plastic. It feels like you can’t ever escape!

After filling out Beth Terrys checklists I was shocked with how many items could be replaced. Things I had never even thought about before. Starting last week after I filled this out I ordered new laundry detergent and ordered bar soap. It isn’t a big impact but I needed to start small changes before I started making big ones. I also stopped using plastic bags at grocery stores and started bringing my own. This not only helps our environment but it encourages and helps me live a healthier lifestyle. 

There are quite a few plastic items that are almost impossible to live without. Items such as  cards, for example my credit card and driver’s license. These are things you never think about but they are used almost everyday. Nowadays we have apple pay but it still is not everywhere. Another plastic item that I could not live without is my phone and computer. I mean I couldn’t even be writing this right now! Although people may be able to live without these items I surely can’t as I use them every day. Lastly, a plastic thing I can’t replace is my car. I use my car as my main source of transportation. Being at college I haven’t had my car but even just ubers still count. 

Change is certainly hard especially when I’m already experiencing many changes transitioning to college. After being in this class I am very motivated to decrease my plastic consumption to better the environment. Even though I have started small I am going to gradually make steps to make my plastic consumption less and less. I advise you to do the same and start making small changes that will help the future!


Plastic Life

Plastic is everywhere, it surrounds us 24/7. We eat it, we touch it, we even smell it and while we may not know it, we are probably never going to be able to get rid of it. I never really thought about how much plastic I used every day until I was told to keep a list. Not going to lie I was kind of scared because I knew that I used a lot. My list consisted of thirty-eight items. I was blown away by how long the list was, but when I went to class and heard my classmates sharing theirs, I realized I forgot to put various items. From things like a light switch to the hat I was wearing that day. My list probably could have gone up to around 70 or 80.


Over the span of the past week, I have been very sick and because of this I have been using more plastic than ever. I have been getting food delivered to me for every meal and drinking a lot of plastic water bottles. As I’m sitting here writing this, I think about ways I can limit my plastic use, and while there are things that I can do to help, it is very hard to live a so called “plastic free life”. I look around, while I sit in my dorm room and almost everything I see is made from plastic. I know these items aren’t single use plastics and I can use them for years, but at some point they are still going to end up in the trash.

In the bag of trash that I collected throughout my day it added up to 10 items, well 11 if u include the bag, I used to carry these items how ironic. It was a plate, 4 cups/bottles, food containers, etc. I think this is representative of my lifestyle. Especially being in college and having the bad habit of eating out every day I do use lots of plastic. If I were to use around 9 disposable plastic items every day that would add up to around 3,000 items per year. That’s a lot. From this I have learned that I need to be more conscious of what I buy. Now most of the plastic problem comes from the food industry, which is understandable because how else are you supposed to package food? This school is supposed to be a sustainable school but as far as I have seen it really isn’t. In my dorm room there is no way to recycle anything. Everyone just dumps their trash downstairs. Now if I really wanted to, I could probably drive somewhere to get it recycled. Even when I go to the dining hall there are separate bins, but it all ends up in the same place.


Beth Terry stated in her book “Guilt is not encouraged” this is something everyone should go by. If you are guilty about the plastic, you are using you will never be able to overcome it and fix what you are doing. Overall, I think that this was a good learning experience. I thought that I knew how much plastic I was using but it turns out I really didn’t. I feel that now I have way more knowledge than I did 3 weeks ago, and I feel as though I can limit my plastic use.