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What Is the Connection Between Our Clothes and Energy?

Usually when someone alludes to the energy problem on our planet, the first things that spring to mind are things like automobiles and electronics. But the textile industry uses a mind blowing amount of energy to produce and distribute clothing. From material sourcing to production and distribution, the amount of water and fossil fuel waste involved in making a single garment is simply astounding. It is an environmental concern, but luckily there are solutions both in practice and in development. Let’s take a look at the connection between our clothes and energy.

The Problem

Energy Index of the Clothing Industry:

            Fast Facts

  • Because the textile production process is quite outdated, it has a very low efficiency (therefore requiring more energy than many more modern processes).
  • Enormous amounts of fossil fuels are required to perform transport, produce textiles, and power the production mills.
  • It takes less energy to drive a Lamborghini from New York to Washington, D.C. than it takes to produce 25 yards of nylon fabric.
  • It can take 2,700 liters (700 + gallons) of water to produce the cotton needed to make just ONE t-shirt.

Transport

  • Because fashion is a global business, the production of one textile typically involves about 3 countries: one for purchasing supplies (such as yarn), another for weaving and dying the fabric, and another for manufacture. This doesn’t even count the instances where extras such as zippers and buttons need to be shipped in from elsewhere.
  • A single company’s products could potentially be made in approximately 3,000 factories in about 50 countries. The transport involved in that process is immense.

Waste

  • The largest environmental impact from clothing comes from the energy which goes into washing, drying, and ironing.
  • 50% of the environmental impact of a single T-shirt can be reduced by lowering the water temperature while washing, by hang drying, and eliminating ironing.
  • Each year, approximately 1 million tons of textiles are sent to the landfills.

The Solutions

  • Products can be sourced by fashion companies from recycled yarn and fabrics.
  • Package waste can be minimized
  • Locally sourced and manufactured garments would drastically reduce transport needs
  • Ultrafiltration plants featuring diaphragm filtration systems have been designed
    for use in the textile industry: these filtration systems recover thermal energy, and generate no liquid waste.
    They have zero discharge, and at least 80 percent of the wastewater is reused as process water.