Leonardo DiCaprio is trending this week in social media for two reasons; firstly because after 6 Academy Award Nominations spanning over decades DiCaprio won for his role in The Reverent and secondly because of his acceptance speech. Immediately after he finished thanking his family, friends and co workers he used the worlds undivided attention to get his message out about climate change;
“2015 was the hottest year in recorded history… Climate change is real… this is happening right now… Let’s not take this planet for granted; I do not take tonight for granted” – Leonardo DiCaprio Oscar speech 2016.
What does this have to do with a clothing bank? Well as it turns out, a lot. The clothing industry is one of the worlds largest environmental violators. The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) aka their carbon footprint which the clothing and textile industry produces is massive. It is estimated that the textile industry accounts for 10% of total carbon emissions or 1 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity in addition to using 9 trillion liters of water. One of the worst offenders is cotton which accounts for 40% of all fabrics produced. Cotton is cultivated in dry climates (southern U.S., India etc.) and requires vast amounts of water to thrive; one cotton shirt uses approximately 2700 litres of water during the cultivation process. Dyeing fabric also uses up large quantities of water 600 L per 1 kg of fabric, this lopsided ratio is frightening.
These numbers are large and frightening but for the average person they are difficult to put into perspective. The world’s largest retail and service group, the Otto Group conducted a study to determine the carbon footprint made by one ladies white long sleeve. The study discovered that during its lifespan this single white shirt will produce approximately 10kg of CO2. The breakdown is as follows:
~1kg Cotton cultivation
~3kg Spinning, dyeing, cutting, assembly, sewing
~3kg Packaging, storage delivery from point of distribution
~3Kg Laundering shirts for duration of ownership (based on 55 washes).
~10kg CO2 Total Carbon Footprint
However the last CO2 reading for laundering the shirt is based on a household that does not use a dryer or iron, add these two factors the CO2 emission increases by a staggering ~9kg, this almost doubles the carbon footprint to ~19kg CO2. While this number is frightening these numbers can be mitigated on our end as consumers for instance, using an energy efficient washer and dryer, using cold water instead of warm or hot water (90% of the energy your washing machine uses is to heat the water), and hanging your clothing to dry are all easy ways to greatly decrease CO2 emissions. There are other perhaps less obvious ways to reduce the total carbon footprint of the clothing and textile industry, by recycling your gently used clothing to your local clothing bank and by shopping in second hand stores you are helping to decrease demand for newly manufactured clothing.
While many applauded DiCaprio, there were others who accused him of grandstanding, what we must keep in mind is this; when we make even the smallest adjustments to our everyday lives, we are helping to safeguard the existence of our planet for future generations.