Advancing life cycle assessment of textile products to include textile chemicals. Inventory data and toxicity impact assessment
Doctoral thesis, 2017
Textile products are used by almost everybody throughout the world, fulfilling basic human needs such as keeping us warm and contributing to our social position. Every year the global textile industry delivers close to 100 million metric tonnes of new products to the market. The volume of products gives a hint also to the magnitude of the environmental burden of the textile industry.
The major environmental impacts of textile products arise from emissions of toxic substances and use of water and energy in the production phase of the life cycle. Among these, impacts from emissions of toxic substances are particularly difficult to assess. In this thesis life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to study the environmental impact of textile products. The holistic perspective of LCA reduces the risk that new solutions for textile production technology, aimed at reducing pollution, will simply shift the environmental impact from one life cycle phase to another, or from one type of environmental impact to another. The objective of the research has been to develop LCA methodology for assessing toxicity impacts so that LCA can provide holistic guidance towards improving the environmental performance of textile products. However, LCA face challenges concerning both inventory and modelling of toxicity impacts of textile chemicals.
Three research questions are answered: (1) does LCA provide additional knowledge regarding toxicity impacts compared to other less time-consuming environmental assessment methods, (2) which LCA data gaps are most important to fill in order to cover the most common processes and chemicals in the textile industry, and (3) can methodology be developed to fill prioritized LCA data gaps at a reasonable demand of time and competence?
It is concluded that the main benefit of using LCA to assess the toxicity impact of textile chemicals lies in the potential for expressing the environmental performance quantitatively, in comparison to qualitative, semi-quantitative and management routine-focused methods. The thesis presents a framework for systematizing the life cycle inventory of textile processes and methodology for matching the inventory results with characterisation factors in the impact assessment. The framework includes a set of 30 life cycle inventories of common textile processes. The framework, methods and life cycle inventories are transparently documented in order to enable inclusion of additional processes in the future.
Life cycle assessment