Tag Archives: pollution

ARE YOUR CLOTHES RESPONSIBLE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?

The gloomy sky overhead Haslemere made it seem darker and colder than it was. A depressing midweek afternoon, with both Christmas and the New year landmarks disappearing over the rear horizon.

Costa Coffee was almost empty, and I shared the place with one Barista and the branch manager, both of whom were courteously ignoring me, and conducting a desultory, spasmodic conversation related to their respective family Christmases.

Christmas, as always, these days, was a mixed bag of news, but one item did catch my attention. A lot of media coverage was being dedicated to criticising the time-honoured Christmas jumper.

It seems that such jumpers are environmental disasters, and the bombardment of negativity made it almost feel as if the green lobby were deliberately greenwashing Christmas. In some cases, this leads to “green fatigue”, and I heard a lot of comments that bemoaned the continual media attention focused on environmental issues. I must admit, that I too “switched off”.

The net result is that, as usual, my interest was piqued, and I immediately fired up the laptop, and started researching the environmental impact of the garment industry.

What I discovered is interesting, yet shocking.

The fashion and garment industry is simply huge. It is worth US$ 1.3 trillion, and employs about 300 million people. It greedily consumes 60% of all textiles produced.

Approximately 5% of all EU household expenditure is for clothing and footwear, (80% clothing, 20% footwear) about 12.6kg per person.

EU research also revealed that more than 30% of the clothes hiding in European wardrobes had not been used for at least a year.

According to a report published by Worldbank[1] the garment industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions!  That is more than the combined annual Global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) for Aviation and International Shipping[2], yet the media focus is nearly always focused on the transport sector.

Consider this; annually the garment industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water – that is enough to satisfy the annual consumption needs of about five million people!

This is not just the water used for manufacturing garments, but also includes the irrigation requirements of the cotton and fibre crops.

Dyeing material and treatments during manufacturing contributes to 20% of worldwide wastewater generation.

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Polyester, one of the most popular fibres for clothing is made from fossil fuels, and is totally non-biodegradable. It does have the benefits of being tolerant of washing at lower temperatures, has a low water footprint, dries quickly, needs virtually no ironing, and it can be recycled into new fibres.

Now the downside. Recent studies have shown that just one domestic washing load of polyester clothing can discharge in the region of 700,000 microplastic fibres in the waste water, which subsequently release toxins into the marine environment, which eventually contaminate the human food chain.

This in itself is an appalling situation!

To put this into perspective, it takes about 3800 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. This equates to an equivalent CO2 emissions equivalent of about 34kg!

a machine sewing a jean

Photo Credit to © Jrstock

Garment production is resource-greedy, and materials used all have an impact on our world. For example, we are exhorted to wear natural products rather than synthetic, but perversely, natural products are the most un-eco-friendly – cotton contributes to excessive water consumption. The production of wool also adds significantly to methane emissions[3].

So, manufacturing clothing currently has a high environmental cost.

You may buy that pretty dress, or that cool shirt, or yet another pair of denim jeans. Do you think of the hidden environmental costs when you buy it?

Globally, clothing is massively under-utilised – and usage of clothing has slumped by about 36% compared with just fifteen years ago. Some items are discarded after just seven to ten wears. This is appalling!

An article in the Daily Mail reported that many women had adopted a throw away “wear it once” mentality related to clothing. The report suggested that much of this was due to the peer pressure exerted through social media in not wanting to be photographed or “tagged” wearing the same item more than once.

Model walk the runway at Fashion Show. Legs of model on catwalk runway show event.

Photo Credit to © Zoran Kompar 1 –

The associated costs are high and that’s not just from an ecological perspective. Globally, customers are wasting an estimated US$ 460 billion per year on waste and un-needed replacement.

Less that 1% of textile materials recovered from clothing is reused for clothing. Most of what is recovered is simply shredded and then used for lower purposes such as furniture stuffing, insulation, and cleaning cloths.

Unused clothing is often just dumped into landfill as refuse. There are high costs associated with the disposal of clothing, and to put this into perspective, the UK spends approximately £86 million per year to process and dispose of it.

This is also driven by the relatively new fast fashion culture. In the past, most clothing designers would launch their collections on a seasonal basis, but now many lower cost clothing stores offer new designs far more frequently, sometimes as often as weekly!

The fashion chain Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year, and H&M between 12 and 16.[4]

Very often fast fashion is made from very cheap materials – almost planned obsolescence and often fails quite quickly.

The consumer is almost led to believe that clothing is virtually perishable goods and are seen as disposable in the same way as a cigarette lighter.

The pressure on consumers, both from social media and commercial retailers to refresh their wardrobes has led to a state where the average person buys 60% more clothing today than they did in 2000.

In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made globally. In just twenty years, this has doubled, according to research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Significant environmental impact occurs during consumer use. Throughout the lifecycle of the clothes, they will be laundered many times, using water, chemicals and energy. Each time they will shed microplastics into the water system. They will then, in many cases, be tumble dried, and then ironed and pressed, using yet more energy.

So, what can be done?

Firstly, the old linear manufacturing system has to change. Linear systems simply take raw products, and through subsequent processes, manufacture a garment. The garment is sold, used, washed, used and then discarded.

A new circular economy needs to be created, where the discarded garment is collected, processed, recycled and remanufactured.

Clothing designers need to embrace a new concept of reducing waste at every stage of production. Products should be designed to have multiple life cycles using materials that are tailored to their intended subsequent uses.

Manufacturers should be considering materials such as bio-based polyesters (which use starches and lipids sourced from corn, sugar beet and plant oils) and man-made Cellulosic (MMCs) made from dissolved wood pulp. New products such as Lyocell (Tencel) made of cellulose from Eucalyptus which grow quickly and require no irrigation or pesticides must be rapidly incorporated into the manufacturing chain.

Retailers should also introduce much more effective labelling with tags clearly stating the item’s sustainability and emissions information, and better and more intuitive washing and care instructions.

Secondly, consumers need to make a significant change in mindset.

They need to be encouraged to make small behavioural changes such as reducing the temperatures at which they wash clothing, always washing a full load wherever possible, avoiding tumble drying wherever possible. and buying clothes made from ecologically friendly fibres.

Unwanted clothes should always be donated to charities rather than discarding them into landfill.

Dare I also say that clothes should be washed less frequently, airing them instead, and avoid any unnecessary ironing.

Instead of fast fashion, “Slow Fashion” should be adopted – buy fewer clothes of better quality, and keep those for longer.

New Ideas such as a clothes sharing economy. Why buy clothes, when you could lease them, or rent them for a pre-determined time?

High Tech solutions may be just around the corner – with Artificial Intelligence working with advanced three-dimensional printers that would simply produce a custom item of clothing instantly and on the spot. No overproduction or distribution and warehousing costs there eh?

So – maybe you should make a cup of coffee, and go and check your wardrobe.

I just checked mine, and I seem to have quite a lot of clothes cluttering up my life which haven’t been used for a year.

I only own 8 items of footwear – and that includes 2 pairs of hiking boots, a pair of motorcycle boots and a pair of dress cowboy boots. Two pairs of deck shoes, and two pairs of work Chelsea boots. All of them are regularly cleaned and maintained, so replacement is rare.

I now have to fill a number of bin bags to take a trip to the charity shop.

So – Buy cheap, buy twice!

Together all of us making a small difference, makes a big difference.

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Worldbank

[2] 2.5% International Shipping; 2% Aviation

[3] European Parliament Briefing “Environmental Impact of the Textile and Clothing Industry©2019

[4] European Parliamentary Research Service

do you really want to take that carribean cruise?

Many of us believe that we are intelligent, caring beings, and as such, we make decisions to consciously avoid damaging our environment. Many of us have tried to change our lifestyles, and now frequently walk or cycle around our local district. We try to buy organic Fairtrade[1] products, and attempt to live in a sustainable manner.

It’s not always that simple though, is it?  Despite a seismic shift in our thinking we are still guilty of inadvertently creating damage to our home.

It’s easy to bandy about statements about our carbon footprint and boast about our hybrid cars, and our quest for low airmiles vegetables and fruit, but is that enough?

We all look forward to taking a vacation. A two-week respite from our daily labours. An annual opportunity to travel to some exotic and idyllic destination to unwind, decompress and relax.

Significant adverse publicity has demonised road transport and air travel, to the point that those of us that are sensitive to our ecological impact are reluctant to use our cars or air transport for anything other than necessity travel.

So, what of our alternatives?

Many of us are now fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to book a cruise and float around azure blue waters for a fortnight of self-indulgent luxury.

But how many of us think about the environmental impact of cruise ships? It’s a natural tendency to assume that due to the high passenger occupancy of cruise ships they are eco-friendly.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Let’s look at a few facts about the cruise ship industry.

The world’s largest cruise company is the Anglo-American company The Carnival Corporation and Public Limited Company.

This monolithic organisation is the largest global cruise company, in terms of annual passenger carrying, revenue and the overall size of its fleet.

Started in 1975 with one ship, (The Mardi Gras) it now owns 10 cruise lines, operating over a hundred vessels and has a 49.2% share of the global cruise market[2].

In 1996, they launched the world’s largest ship, the 101,000 tonne Carnival Destiny.

Ever increasing demand led to the commissioning of the Carnival Dream in 2009 with a gross tonnage of 128,000 tonnes.

By 2012 the Carnival Vista launched at 133,500 tonnes.

If you thought that was large – then think again. Currently, the world’s largest cruise ship is now the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s flagship. This monster weighs in at 228,000 tonnes, and at maximum occupancy can accommodate 8,800 people. (6,880 passengers, 2,200 crew).

However, by 2012, the reputation of the cruise industry was already being tarnished. At the same time as the Vista was being launched, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that an investigation had revealed that P and O (A subsidiary of Carnival) paid their ship-borne staff a basic salary of just 75p per hour[3] when the UK National Average wage was £15.25 per hour!

According to its own website, the organisation now employs 37,400 staff with 33,500 of those being ship based.

Whilst the cruise industry has a sparkling shop window, its underbelly reveals some profoundly ecologically damaging practices. In 2017, Princess Cruise lines were fined $40M US for illegally dumping oil into the oceans, and the intentionally covering it up.

It’s easy to assume that the economy of scale makes cruising environmentally friendly.

However, cruise ships are very poor advocates of low impact travel.

To put this into perspective, The Oasis of the Seas, weighing 225,282 tonnes, will burn just over 11,000 gallons of low quality high-sulphur fuel oil at its cruising speed of 22.6 knots.[4] This is an eye watering gallon for every twelve feet travelled!

A smaller ship (138,000 tonnes) using the same type of diesel engines that only operate at about 30% efficiency, (rated at 75,600Kw[5]) will burn about 6,640 gallons of low-grade oil per hour.

Maritime low-grade heavy oil fuels are incredibly damaging, with a very high sulphur content – far higher than the amount of sulphur and particulates found in car exhausts.

Bearing in mind that cruise liners take passengers to many world heritage sites, the inadvertent collateral damage could be huge, with many implications for the historic cities visited.

Cruise line marketing often focuses on the beautiful destination to which passengers may be taken – unspoilt beaches, remote island chains and ancient port cities. with fresh sea breezes and clean air.

The reality is somewhat different, with the cruise industry complacently burning the dirtiest fuel in some of the world’s most fragile environments such as the arctic.

Shipping currently accounts for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions.

It has been one of the slowest transport sectors to accept that it has a problem, and it was only in April 2018 that its first sector-specific emissions reduction target was set – to reduce emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020.

To place this into context, shipping has been linked to 400,000 premature deaths attributed to cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer each year.[6] The shipping industry is also a regular contributor to marine pollution, and that’s not just limited to oil and debris discharged at sea.

The industry also sends many of its old ships to be broken for scrap – many to under-developed Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India[7]

The ship breaking yard at Alang (located in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat off the Gulf of Cambay) was set up in 1983 on a small scale along a 10-km (6 miles) stretch of sandy beach. The tidal, geographical, and climatic features make Alang an ideal ship breaking location.

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These types of location, whilst excellent for the convenience of breaking up old hulls, are highly inappropriate sites for the delicate marine eco-systems, bringing the risks of routinely leaking hazardous and toxic materials into the sea during the process of breaking.

Furthermore, according to data from the Gujarat Maritime Board, there have been over two hundred deaths over the years caused by fires and other accidents.

A research paper written by Dr. Maruf Hossain and Mohammad Islam of the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong[8] details the extent to which highly dangerous materials are leaked into coastal waters, and the impact it has on marine life, and on human health via the food chain.
It makes for sombre reading.

According to the Friends of the Earth, during 2014, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of human sewage into the seas.

The US EPA stated at the time, that an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 domestic swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “greywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

That’s a bit of an eye opener isn’t it?

Now consider on top of that, every cruise ship passenger generates 3.5 kg of rubbish every day, some of which will find its way into the azure blue waters that you went there to see in the first place.

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Since then the industry has made some progress, and new cruise ships of the future may well be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which offers much lower sulphur emissions, and is therefore an improvement in this respect to the heavy oil currently used.

However, LNG isn’t the panacea to the problems of emissions. A recent report by Transport and Environment (T and E) states that LNG-powered cruise ships will not deliver sustainable tourism, as its potential widespread use will lock the industry into using fossil-based fuels for decades.

Recently, the port city of Barcelona announced that it would encourage the handling of cruise ships powered by LNG. The first LNG ship arrived in Barcelona earlier this year and was refuelled with LNG from a special barge. Barcelona hailed this as a big step forward in sustainable tourism.

This is not the case according to research conducted by T and E, which demonstrates that LNG used in shipping may generate 9% more greenhouse gases than the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.

So, even if all cruise ships were to be powered by LNG, the ecological implications are still serious.

So, maybe it’s about time that we re-considered our holidays.

Maybe it’s time to holiday locally, without creating a massive carbon footprint by flying and cruising?

[1] The Fairtrade Foundation

[2] Wikipedia

[3] UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2011

[4] 26 miles per hour

[5] 101,382 Horsepower

[6] Transport & Environment Annual Report, 2018

[7] See Data from Shipbreaking Bangladesh

[8] Ship Breaking Activities and its Impact on the Marine Environment.