97.4% Net Energy Savings from Reusing Cotton Clothing: LCA & The Salvation Army


We all know that second-hand clothing can be cool, stylish, fun and green. Some smart Brits took the time to evaluate the actual energy savings derived from clothing re-use, giving us numbers to justify our pledge for donating and recycling those unwanted garments. The The Salvation Army Trading Company Limited (SATCOL) along with University College Northampton and Environmental Resources Management carried out a life cycle assessment to "determine whether the recycling of clothes, shoes and textiles actually results in a net energy benefit." Their findings were published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling [2006 (46): 94-103]. This streamlined LCA focuses on the energy consumption for the clothing recycling activity at SATCOL and quantifies the clothing recycling energy footprint of the organization. They calculated energy consumption for 1 tonne of recycled clothing by quantifying the energy, fuels and materials consumption for the year 2000/2001. The major energy consumer within the operation comes from their internal transport system for collection and distribution of donated items and they calculate that the energy required to recycle a tonne as being 1697 kWh, while the energy to create 1 tonne of cotton garments from virgin materials is 66648 kWh and 91508 kWh for a polyester garment. To calculate the net energy savings the study deducts the energy used to reuse or recycle 1 tonne of clothing from the energy used to manufacture it from virgin materials. The astonishing result is that:

The reuse of 1 tonne of polyester garments only uses 1.8% of the energy required for manufacture of these goods from virgin materials and the reuse of 1 tonne of cotton clothing only uses 2.6% of the energy required to manufacture those from virgin materials.

What an incredible net energy savings. The study notes that in 2003/2004 SATCOL received 23,000 tonnes of textiles (75 million individual items), 27% higher than 2000/2001. SATCOL receives 10-15 % of all the clothing, shoes, textiles and accessories donated each year in the UK. They run 38 charity shops in the UK and also transport clothing to parts of the world that need low cost clothing. So keep buying second-hand clothing when you get that urge for a new garment and keep donating when you grow tired of that clothing in your closet. Not only are you helping clothing reach people in need, you are saving an incredible amount of energy and environmental impact. Read the entire article here:: How to Green Your Wardrobe . More recycled clothing here and here. Image credit: The Freelance Star.

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