Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) Workshop & Ocean Wise Plastics Lab Visit Recap
November 20, 2019

Life Cycle Analysis, Ocean Plastics & Textile Biodegradability

Recent cotton sustainability events educated attendees about performing and measuring textile life cycle analysis reports, the impact of microfibers on our aquatic environments and the biodegradability of fiber.

Cotton Incorporated hosted two events at the annual Textile Exchange Conference in Vancouver, BC -- a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Workshop and an Ocean Wise Plastics Lab visit and Aquarium Tour. Our involvement with the Textile Exchange and hosting these two events are representative of our commitment, at Cotton Incorporated, to sustainability education. We’re committed to creating networking and partnership opportunities all along the supply chain to build a deeper understanding of why cotton sustainability is so important. These recent events were made possible by Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International and you can get the full recap below.

LCA Workshop

This interactive workshop was offered in collaboration with EarthShift Global and sponsored by Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International. The focus of our dialogue in this Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) workshop was to outline the basics of conducting sustainability assessments with a deep focus on LCAs. Attendees gained a basic understanding of the sustainability assessment “toolbox” which included practices such as greenhouse gas accounting, life cycle costing, sustainable return on investment, and many more. Additionally, a detailed overview of LCA methodology was provided to ensure participants had a complete understanding of the LCA process. The goal of this part of the LCA workshop was to equip students with the knowledge necessary to critically analyze LCA reports, data, and results in order to identify shortcomings and misinterpretations that often appear in external sustainability communications. The most common misuse of LCA data observed is when data from non-comparative LCAs are used to make comparative assertions. This practice is strictly prohibited under the International Standards Organization (ISO) requirements and guidelines for conducting LCAs.

Students also got to take a deep dive into Cotton Incorporated’s Cotton LCA, a session that was led by our Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Dr. Jesse Daystar. Following the deep dive, Dr. Daystar presented a session titled, “Pathways to Progress” where we discussed how LCA results were used to guide into aggressive science based targets leading to our 10-year sustainability goals for the US cotton industry. and the US Cotton Trust Protocol.

The graphic below represents the system boundaries considered in the Cotton LCA. This particular LCA included a global average of cotton producing countries representing 67% of world cotton production (study period of 2010 to 2014). The scope of the LCA was cradle to grave, which analyzes the cumulative environmental impacts of growing the cotton plant, yarn spinning, garment manufacturing (cutting and sewing), consumer use (laundering, washing and drying), and the “end of life” when the garment is disposed in a landfill.

Ocean Wise Plastics Lab Visit and Vancouver Aquarium Tour

Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International partnered with Ocean Wise to provide attendees a behind-the-scenes look at their cutting edge ocean plastic research facility in Vancouver, BC. Here, participants learned from leading experts about the negative impacts of synthetic microfibers on the aquatic environment. Textile microfiber research, like Ocean Wise’s, help brands develop a deep understanding of the shedding potential and biodegradability of different fiber types and garments as well as an understanding of what happens to these microfibers during home laundry processes, wastewater treatment processes and once in the ocean, and participants were able to engage with this research firsthand.

Following the Ocean Wise Plastics Lab tour, attendees headed to the Vancouver Aquarium where they went on a plastic-focused guided tour to observe displays that highlighted the plastic pollution problem. These creative and interactive exhibits immersed participants in the real depth of the issue. The plastic displays started at the macroplastic pollution level, featuring an immersive fusion of art and environment by Douglas Coupland, called “Vortex”. Next, a series of exhibits were set up in sequence to mentally “walk” the viewers through the plastic degradation process. Ultimately, the exhibit ended at a microplastic level. The final plastic exhibit was a laundering display that illustrated how synthetic microfibers are generated during laundering. This exhibit was particularly eye-opening and provided an easy-to-follow simulation of how synthetic textiles generate microplastics during laundering. It helped “connect the dots” between the macroplastic and microplastic pollution problem, giving viewers a sense that even “invisible” microplastic pollution is equally, if not more, persistent and detrimental to the aquatic environment as large plastic debris. This event provided a wholistic understanding of the crisis, with a focus on how synthetic textiles are a major contributor to this growing issue.

For more information on ocean plastics and the biodegradability of cotton in water, watch our webinar.

Commit to sustainably produced cotton – become a Cotton LEADS partner today. Interested in doing even more? Contact us for ideas to get the most out of sustainable cotton and your partnership with Cotton LEADS.

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