Science-what is the environmental footprint of a T-shirt

environmental footprint of a T-shirt

An in-depth analysis of the life cycle makes us more aware of the environment and the effects of the things we wear. Every garment has an impact on the environment. Take the example of the custom t shirts that you are wearing. Consider the amount of water that was used to make the fiber. The fuel burned in order to ship it. The scraps are thrown away from the trimmings. The amount of water used every time it is washed.

Case Study

A student from Chalmers Institute of Technology conducted a life-cycle analysis. The aim was to find out more about the resources that go into fashion and their overall impact. She was curious to find out the environmental footprint of the t-shirt. The Ph.D. student is undertaking a course on Environmental System Analysis. Several aspects of the life cycle, which are in the context of fashion, were put together in the analysis. The result showed that the fashion industry could indeed affect our world in more ways than we can imagine.

A basic life cycle follows a product from the creation of the raw materials to discarding of the used final product. Incorporating more elements in the case study resulted in information that is more specific.  The garments were divided into four stages that were to be analyzed. The stages are:

  • Production
  • Distribution/sale
  • Use
  • Disposal

For each stage, there are environmental indicators to erasure the impact, for example, water use, carbon footprint, energy use, land use.

The results varied when tested with different garments. Some of the variations were because of the thickness of fibers if they are knitted or woven, and the technique of stitching. Some processes of stitching such as confectioning were more harmful to the environment because they required cutting. This means more waste, more efforts for printing and ironing, which resulted in the use of energy.


The overall effect can be quantified. The complete analysis showed that a t-shirt uses about 120 liters of water every time it is worn.  The dye in the t-shirt contributed to 10grams of carbon. A single t-shirt just gives a small picture of the impact of fashion on the environment.

The impact is greater when analyzed per country. In Sweden, for example, an average person buys nine t-shirts per year.  Statistics Sweden, the national administrative agency, says that an average Swede wears a single shirt 22 times per year. The shirt is washed once every two wears.  This means that in a year, one t-shirt requires 1320 liters of water and produces 110g of carbon. This means that a single Swede uses 11,880litres on water and releases 990g of carbon to the environment every year. This is very harmful to the environment.


In conclusion, everyone is constantly saying that you should wash the clothes at low temperature to save the climate, but the truth is that this barely modifies the climate. The major factors that affect the climate are in the producing, transporting, and wearing of the shirt.

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