Life cycle assessment of cotton T-shirts in China

  • You Zhang
  • Xin Liu
  • Rufeng Xiao
  • Zengwei YuanEmail author



Nowadays, environmental sustainability of textile has gained much attention from government and suppliers due to the resource consumption and pollutant emissions. Besides, different consumer behaviors can result in quite different environmental consequences mainly in terms of water and energy consumption. Therefore, it is necessary to systematically evaluate the environmental impacts of textiles from a life cycle perspective to improve the sustainability of textiles especially for China, the biggest producer, exporter, and consumer in the world.


This study is conducted according to the International Organizations for Standardization’s (ISO) 14040 standard series. The declared unit is a piece of 100 % cotton short-sleeved T-shirt. The production data mainly come from field investigations of representative mills in China. The use-phase data are mainly from 924 questionnaires of Chinese residents. The secondary data from databases, literatures, and authoritative statistical data are supplemented in case primary data are not available. The potential environmental impacts are evaluated using the CML2001 and USEtox methodologies built into the GaBi version 6.0 software. We determine hotspots throughout the life cycle of the cotton textile considering the impact categories of abiotic depletion, acidification potential, global warming potential, photochemical ozone creation potential, eutrophication potential, water use, and toxicity.

Results and discussion

The results of the study show that cotton cultivation, dyeing, making-up, and use-phases are the main contributors to the environmental impacts. In particular, fertilizer, pesticide, and water use in cotton cultivation, coal, dyes, and auxiliaries use in dyeing, electricity use in making-up, detergent and water use in washing, and electricity use in spinning are the hotspots based on the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results. The use-phase scenario analysis shows that compared with machine washing, electric drying, and ironing share the majority of electricity consumption. Compared with Americans, Chinese washing habits are much more environmental-friendly and bring much lower environmental impacts in the use stage.


Energy consumption, chemical use, and water use are main contributors to most impact categories, which help us to find hotspots and potential improvements of sustainability.


Cleaner production Clothing Consumer behavior Cotton textile Environmental management Laundry washing Life cycle assessment Sustainability 



This research was financially supported by the Sustainability Consortium and the Natural Science Foundation of China (41222012). All the listed authors have confirmed the final version of the manuscript and approved it for submission.

Conflict of interest

All authors certify that there is no any potential conflict of financial or non-financial interest and this research does not involve any animals.

Supplementary material

11367_2015_889_MOESM1_ESM.docx (35 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


  1. Blackburn RS, Payne JD (2004) Life cycle analysis of cotton towels: impact of domestic laundering and recommendations for extending periods between washing. Green Chem 6:G59–G61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chen YF, Jiang Y, Chen WM, Qin CX (2008) The research of the distribution of nitrogen content in the Chinese coal. Clean Coal Technol 71–74 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  3. China National Textile and Apparel Council (2012) The outline of building a strong textile industry in China. China Textile and Apparel Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  4. Chyxx Consulting (2013) Forecast of the development of Chinese yarn-dyed fabrics in 2013. Accessed 27 July 2014
  5. CML (2001) Handbook on impact categories “CML2001”. Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  6. Cotton Council International (2012) Cotton USA-global supply chain. Accessed 24 May 2014
  7. Cotton Incorporated, PE International (2012) The life cycle inventory and life cycle assessment of cotton fiber and fabric-full report. Cotton Foundation, AmericaGoogle Scholar
  8. Dai J, Dong H (2014) Intensive cotton farming technologies in China: achievements, challenges and countermeasures. Field Crop Res 155:99–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Saxce M, Pesnel S, Perwuelz A (2012) LCA of bed sheets—some relevant parameters for lifetime assessment. J Clean Prod 37:221–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Farrant L, Olsen SI, Wangel A (2010) Environmental benefits from reusing clothes. Int J Life Cycle Assess 15:726–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hasanbeigi A, Price L (2012) A review of energy use and energy efficiency technologies for the textile industry. Renew Sust Energ Rev 16:3648–3665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hong CC, Liu MC, Li WH (2015) Evaluation on the policies of non-point pollution control of chemical fertilizer in China. J Arid Land Resour Environ 29:1–6 (in Chinese with English abstract) Google Scholar
  13. ISO (2006) ISO 14040 Series: environmental life cycle assessment—principles and framework. International Organization for Standardization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  14. Jin SQ, Du M, Wei X, Sun Y (2011) Environmental impact assessment of cotton planting and suggestions for its sustainable development. J Agric Sci Technol 13:110–117 (in Chinese with English abstract) Google Scholar
  15. Kiran-Ciliz N (2003) Reduction in resource consumption by process modifications in cotton wet processes. J Clean Prod 11:481–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kostka G, Moslener U, Andreas J (2013) Barriers to increasing energy efficiency: evidence from small-and medium-sized enterprises in China. J Clean Prod 57:59–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Laursen SE, Hansen J, Knudsen HH, Wenzel H, Larsen HF, Kristensen FM (2007) EDIPTEX—environmental assessment of textiles. Danish Environmental Protection Agency, DenmarkGoogle Scholar
  18. Malik DS, Bharti PK (2010) Textile pollution. Daya Publishing House, IndiaGoogle Scholar
  19. Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China (2012) Twelfth Five-Year Plan for Textile Industry Accessed 19 January 2014
  20. National Bureau of Statistics of China (2013) China statistical yearbook 2012. China Statistics Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  21. Niu WY (2013) China’s New-Urbanization Report 2012. Chinese Academy of Sciences, ChinaGoogle Scholar
  22. Pakula C, Stamminger R (2010) Electricity and water consumption for laundry washing by washing machine worldwide. Energy Effic 3:365–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. PE International (2012) GaBi 6 software and databases. Leinfelden-Echterdingen, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  24. Ponder CS (2009) Life cycle inventory analysis of medical textiles and their role in prevention of nosocomial infections. University, North Carolina StateGoogle Scholar
  25. Rosenbaum RK et al (2008) USEtox—the UNEP-SETAC toxicity model: recommended characterisation factors for human toxicity and freshwater ecotoxicity in life cycle impact assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess 13:532–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Steinberger JK, Friot D, Jolliet O, Erkman S (2009) A spatially explicit life cycle inventory of the global textile chain. Int J Life Cycle Assess 14:443–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sun L, Yuan ZW, Jiang WL, Bi J (2010) Order scheduling optimization for printing and dyeing enterprises aiming water conservation. Syst Eng Theory Pract 30:1514–1520 (in Chinese with English abstract) Google Scholar
  28. Tang LS, Li Y, Zhang JH (2010) Partial rootzone irrigation increases water use efficiency, maintains yield and enhances economic profit of cotton in arid area. Agric Water Manag 97:1527–1533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Terinte N, Manda BMK, Taylor J, Schuster KC, Patel MK (2014) Environmental assessment of coloured fabrics and opportunities for value creation: spin-dyeing versus conventional dyeing of modal fabrics. J Clean Prod 72:127–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ting C (2011) Building a sustainable supply chain: an analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the Chinese textile and apparel industry. J Text Inst 102:837–848CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Velden NM, Patel MK, Vogtländer JG (2014) LCA benchmarking study on textiles made of cotton, polyester, nylon, acryl, or elastane. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19:331–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Walser T, Demou E, Lang DJ, Hellweg S (2011) Prospective environmental life cycle assessment of nanosilver T-shirts. Environ Sci Technol 45:4570–4578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Weidema B, Hischier R (2006) Ecoinvent data v2. 2. St. Gallen, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  34. Woolridge AC, Ward GD, Phillips PS, Collins M, Gandy S (2006) Life cycle assessment for reuse/recycling of donated waste textiles compared to use of virgin material: an UK energy saving perspective. Resour Conserv Recycl 46:94–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. World Trade Organization (2013) Time series on international trade. Accessed 23 January 2015
  36. Wu GH (2012) Calculation and analysis of fossil energy consumption carbon emissions —taking Jinan as an example. Theory J:61–65 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  37. Yang HQ, Cui WG (2010) Cotton industry in China, status and development strategies. Crops:13–17 (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  38. Yuan ZW, Zhu YN, Shi JK, Liu X, Huang L (2012) Life-cycle assessment of continuous pad-dyeing technology for cotton fabrics. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18:659–672CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zhao XT, Hong TH, Lei OY (1997) Mathematical model of water conservation of the washing machine. Math Practice Theory 27:71–75 (in Chinese) Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Pollution Control and Resources Reuse, School of the EnvironmentNanjing UniversityNanjingChina

Personalised recommendations