Tag Archive: sustainability

  1. Clothing, Textiles & Garment Life Cycle Analysis


    Update: I will be focus on a Leg Avenue brand of hosiery.

    I decided to focus on the clothing/textiles/garment industry as the research subject for the rest of the semester. It holds a certain power for me as my maternal lineage consists of tailors, seamstresses, and shoemakers. A common history for Ashkenazim who fled Eastern Europe, my great grandparents settled in the Lower East Side where my great grandmother was a garment industry worker at the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. As someone who rarely buys “new” clothing (my wardrobe has changed fairly in the past decade with the exception of my penchant for vintage dresses which are now about 50-60 year old garments), I am fascinating about the life cycle of various textiles throughout the world being manufactured at different periods of time.

    The textile industry has been wrought with problems at every stage of the life cycle from the poor treatment of workers and working conditions (sweatshops, et. al.) to formaldehyde treated fabric to large companies such as H&M being publicly shamed (and rightfully so) for shredding unsold garments instead of donating them to those in need. I am interested in learning about every stage of the life cycle of this material and product.

    Start doing deep dive research into your chosen product to review, focused on product origin, and share your findings on your blog. Where is this product made? What were you not able to discover?

    Textiles are made from both organic (as in naturally occuring or plant based materials) and inorganic (as in synthetic) materials. Fibers that make up textiles come from materials more explicitly such as plants (hemp, cotton, linen, bamboo), animal (wool, alpaca, insects (silk), and crude oil(!). Synethic materials are made of all sorts of confusing things.

    Textiles used for clothing are frequently made in Bangladesh, China, India and Sri Lanka as wages are significantly lower than for workers in the global north. Not surprisingly, globalization is the most contributing factor to the poor working conditions of garment workers.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Used, unwearable clothing was once used for quilts, rag, rugs, bandages, and many other household uses. It could also be recycled into paper. Now it is usually thrown away. Used but still wearable clothing can be sold at consignment shops, dress agencies, flea markets, online auction, or donated to charity.

    There are many concerns about the life cycle of synthetics which come primarily from petrochemicals. Unlike natural fibers, their source is not renewable (in less than millions of years) and they are not biodegradable.”

    However, specific brands work towards running sustainable and ethical business practices ranging from vertical integration to worker owned-cooperative to organic fibers and materials used in their products. Well known American Apparel is one of them (despite the highly sexualized nature of their advertisements…) and assorted manufacturers such as Justice Clothing and No Sweat Apparel.

    Below are some of the studies I’ve found:

  2. Product Life Cycle Analysis: Flat Panel Display Monitors

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    “Human health and ecological toxicity potentials due to heavy metal content in waste electronic devices with flat panel displays”

    Journal of Hazardous Materials

    What were the system boundaries chosen by the authors of the study?

    What life cycle stage had the greatest impact?

    This study focused specifically on CRTs and LCDs, as used for computer desktop displays. These devices are known for their heavy metal components which eventually turn into gas and are deposited into the water. Apparently what turns into ash then leaches into the water, so inevitably all of these toxins get into our water system.

    The US-centric metrics used by the U.S. EPA in this case began in 1995 and is used to measure data in this study. The author notes that an average was taken based on location but, however, did not include occupational exposure in the data.

    The potential human health toxicity and exotoxicity were determined by something the author defined as pathway and impact models averaging “toxicity potentials, sales volume over time, product weights, lifetimes of each device, and the fraction of devices landfilled and incinerated.” These devices totaled less than 1% of landfill/incinerated waste set at .82% in 2006 and .85% in 2005.

    I was disturbed to learn that LCD screens contain arsenic (improved clarity of the screen) and mercury is found in backlit LCD models. A conductive film in LCDs can cause lung disease and/or cancer. If  these products continue to be made with heavy metals and continue to be incinerated or placed in landfills, they will continue to poison the air and water.

    According to the study, cancer potentials from laptops and LCD monitors will most likely increase significantly between 2009-2011. Furthermore, plasma TVs will become a significant part of the equation in 2021. This is all very scary stuff. It was difficult for me to decipher from this study the greatest impact other than I assume “end of life” when materials are disposed of and the toxic heavy metals seep into our water supply and into the air.