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A comparative life cycle assessment of commercially available household silver-enabled polyester textiles

Abstract

Purpose

Silver-enabled textiles use the inherent antimicrobial properties of silver to produce a product with odor reduction capabilities. A touted benefit of these products is the ability to reduce their lifetime environmental impact through reductions in laundering. A comprehensive life cycle assessment is needed to fully understand the potential benefit of reduced laundering, environmental payback period, and potential to shift consumer-laundering behavior.

Methods

Three commercially available silver-enabled polyester fabrics are compared to a conventional fabric using life cycle assessment methodology. Sima Pro software along with the Tool for Reduction and Assessment of Chemicals and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI) impact categories are used to model the environmental impact of the four textiles (three with added silver, and one conventional textile) throughout their lifetimes. Environmental payback is used to determine the number of reductions of launderings necessary for environmental benefit to be realized from the inclusion of silver. Current literature on laundering motivations and habits is reviewed to yield insight on whether there is the potential for consumers to launder their textiles less frequently.

Results and discussion

The lifetime environmental impact of the three textiles considered varies as a function of the silver content and environmental impact category. In some impact categories, such as global warming potential, the laundering phase has the greatest environmental impact and thus has the potential for the greatest reduction. In other categories, such as ecotoxicity, the most significant impact is due to the percentage of silver that is released into surface water from the textile. In this case, environmental parity (the point at which the environmental impacts are the same) is not always possible to achieve. A review of the literature suggests that the motivation to launder textiles along with the frequency varies significantly across populations and times in history.

Conclusions

Silver-enabled textiles have the potential to reduce the odors produced by unwashed textiles through bacterial inhibition. In some cases, there is the potential to achieve adequate reductions in laundering to compensate for the increased energy and raw materials needed to produce silver-enabled textile. However, frequency of laundering is largely a cultural norm based on perceived cleanliness and is unlikely to be shifted as a function of textile adoption.

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Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the support of the US Environmental Protection Agency Assistance Agreement No. RD83558001-0 that funded this research. This work has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the agency. Neither the EPA nor the authors endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication. The authors would also like to thank Robert Reed of Arizona State University for his experimental silver loss laundering data.

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Correspondence to Andrea L. Hicks.

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Responsible editor: Gian Luca Baldo

This work was completed while Dr. Hicks was a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Hicks is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Hicks, A.L., Theis, T.L. A comparative life cycle assessment of commercially available household silver-enabled polyester textiles. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22, 256–265 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1145-2

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Keywords

  • Life cycle assessment
  • Nanotechnology
  • Silver
  • Textiles