Carbon Footprint Pop Quiz

1. What industry ranks as the second largest industrial polluter on the planet?
A. Factory farming
B. Automobiles
C. Apparel
D. Energy production

2. It takes 5000 gallons of water to manufacture which of these?
A. an iPhone
B. 10 lbs. of paper
C. 5 lbs. of chocolate
D. a t-shirt and a pair of jeans

3. Per person per year, consumers throw away 90 pounds of this item, of which 95% ends up in landfill:
A. plastic bottles and jars
B. newspapers
C. cardboard boxes
D. clothing and shoes

The answers are:
1. The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and is the largest industrial polluter, after oil. If this surprises you, take into account the life cycle of the global apparel system from fiber production, to yarn and fabric preparation, dying, assembly, distribution and waste. And consider just one component of the system: 29 million tons of cotton are produced annually and it is the world’s single largest pesticide-consuming crop, using 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides globally.

2. It takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
In case you are wondering about how much water the other items require:
cell phone = 240 gallons
paper = 100 gallons per lb.
chocolate = 2061 gallons per lb.

3. Consumers throw away an average of 90 pounds of shoes and clothing per person per year, 95% of which ends up in landfill.
Other items:
plastic bottles and jars = 77 lbs.
newspapers = 38 lbs.
cardboard boxes = 77 lbs.

Now consider the problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) located halfway between California and Hawaii. It is the largest of five plastic accumulation zones and covers a surface of 1.6 million square miles—twice the size of Texas and three times the size of France. Researchers estimate that the GPGP is made up of a minimum of one trillion pieces of plastic weighing upwards of 100 tons. At current rates, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

What if these two problems could be tackled at once? A growing number of entrepreneurial companies are redefining what it means to be fashion forward by recovering plastic trash from the ocean and turn it into fabric—arguably the most elegant solution to both plastic waste and the high environmental cost of fiber production.

Headliners include Thread International, which has shipped nearly 200,000 pounds of post-consumer recycled plastic bottles out of Haiti to be processed into fabric and finished goods. Founder Ian Rosenberger explains: “We take trash…and transform it into fabric. Then we sell that fabric…to anyone who wants to make more responsible dresses, tops, shoes, and bags.” Thread’s operations employ a circular economy: Thread collects waste and makes fabric, brands make responsible products, consumers send products back to Thread for repair, resell, or recycling. Bionic Yarn supplies consumer and industrial markets with high-grade textiles and polymers made from coastal and marine plastic. Seaqual makes polyester yarn from post-consumer plastic bottles and plastic captured from the sea. Repreve is a branded performance fiber used by major companies including Fossil, Lane Bryant, Jockey, Patagonia, Prana, Ford, and dozens of boutique fashion lines. Their process embeds properties like wicking, adaptive warming and cooling, and water repellency, at the fiber level. To date, they are on target to recycle 20 billion bottles by 2020.