Calculating the toxicity footprint of Swedish clothing consumption
Conference contribution, 2017
One of the major environmental challenges of the textile industry is the emissions of toxic substances during the production of textiles. It is therefore vital that toxicity impact potential is included when calculating the environmental impact of textile products with life cycle assessment (LCA). Generally, toxicity is considered a weak point in LCA, and specifically for LCA of textile products there is a lack of guidance in the literature. This paper shares the experiences from using USEtox 2.0 for calculating the toxicity footprint of Swedish clothing consumption.
The most commonly occurring garments, production processes and related toxic emissions were inventoried for the Swedish clothing consumption. The selected case offered the possibility to compare a variety of bio-based as well as synthetic materials and their production processes. The inventoried substances were matched against existing databases for USEtox characterization factors (CF): the USEtox databases and COSMEDE. For the substances that did not have any CF, USEtox 2.0 was used to calculate new CF.
The potential contribution to freshwater ecotoxicity from the Swedish clothing consumption was calculated to 7.9 billion CTUe which can be interpreted as 7.9 cubic kilometres of freshwater where 50% of the species in the ecosystem are exposed daily to a concentration above their EC50. It was found that background processes in the life cycle (exhaust gases from fuel combustion, leakage of substances from mining waste etc.) accounted for 5.5 billion CTUe, or 70%. Direct emissions of toxic substances from the foreground processes (dyestuff, solvents, pesticides etc.) accounted for 2.4 billion CTUe, or 30%. It is important to note that there is a considerable amount of uncertainty in these values.
An interesting discovery was that the wet treatment (dyeing and finishing) had the largest contribution to freshwater ecotoxicity impact, both regarding background and foreground processes. The cotton fibre production, infamous for its use of pesticides, had only the second largest contribution, followed by the yarn production.
The paper concludes that emissions of toxic substances from textile production are an important environmental aspect to include in LCA studies of textile products. The results also contribute to the understanding of the order of magnitude that use and emissions from textile chemicals have in relation to a nations total clothing consumption. Sharing the experiences from the study can facilitate the inclusion of toxic substances in future LCA studies of textiles and other products.