Emissions are created during all stages of a product’s life, from the cradle to the grave. Life-cycle analysis is the way we understand a product’s impact on the environment during its life. This is the method that the calculations for the Second Hand Effect are based on. Eco-friendly choices can be made by all parts in a product’s life cycle.
The life-cycle analysis evaluates the impact of extracting raw material, processing of materials, manufacturing, distribution, use as well as maintenance, disposal or recycling of a product. The environmental impact of a product differs depending on the materials used, complexity of the components, country of manufacturing, transportation alternative and shipment length, the user and the way the product is handled after use. A life-cycle analysis is a simplified version of reality but gives a good indication of emissions associated with just one product’s lifetime.
When comparing a smartphone and a t-shirt we see that the emissions from the smartphone are greater in all phases. In the production phase, emissions from the smartphone are 15 times higher than emissions from producing a t-shirt. But producing a t-shirt also requires a lot of resources and has a huge environmental impact that most of us don’t think about. Quite often the t-shirt never reaches the recycling process since garments are usually thrown away with regular trash. Considering its’ impact it should be recycled in order for the fibers to be used again.
Consumers can make environmentally friendly choices by choosing certified products. This way you know that the environmental impact has been taken into account throughout the process of creating the product you are about to buy.
The life of a smartphone
TOTAL 1 SMARTPHONE: 74 kg CO2
Phase 1: Extraction of materials, 7kg CO2
Aluminum (case), Oil (plastic details) and Gold (electronic components)
Huge amounts of energy are used by excavation cranes and drills in mines when breaking loose raw material and from various machines needed to transforming minerals into metals and other processed goods.
Phase 2: Making the phone, 45 kg CO2
Transport and machinery
Fuel is used for transporting components from various suppliers needed to manufacturer a phone. Different type of machinery needs energy in order for the phone to be compiled.
Phase 3: Distribution, 7 kg CO2
When the smartphone is assembled it will be distributed to a retailer. Emissions are produced by different transports such as airplanes, trains, sea transport and road transport, depending on how far the phone needs to be shipped.
Phase 4: User phase, 14 kg CO2
Charging the phone
In the hands of a consumer, a smartphone will be charged over and over again and it is the electricity used for charging the phone that stands for the majority of the emissions.
Phase 5: Disposal, 1kg CO2
Emissions in the last stage, which includes dismantling, waste separation and melting of metals, require large quantities of energy.
THE LIFE OF A T-SHIRT
TOTAL 1 T-SHIRT: 10.8 kg CO2
Phase 1: Growing cotton, 1.3 kg CO2
Water, pesticides, and purification
Cotton requires vast amounts of water and is usually sprayed with large amounts of pesticides to keep vermin away. After picking the cotton, it needs to be purified which also requires a lot of water, energy, and chemicals.
Phase 2: Producing fabrics and the t-shirt 3.0 kg CO2
Machinery and dyeing
Energy runs machines that transform cotton into thread, which in turn is made into fabrics. The fabric is dyed with chemicals solved in water and then finally rinsed multiple times. The fabric is then cut and sewn together, also with the help of machines that requires energy in large, often run down, factories. All this requires a lot of energy.
Phase 3: Distribution, 2.9 kg CO2
Packaging and transport
The ready-made garments are packed and then shipped by air, sea freight, train or road to a production office, agent or to a retailer’s warehouse. The clothes are then transported to the high street- or the online shop. Finally, the consumer brings the garment home.
Phase 4: User phase, 3.3 kg CO2
Washing and ironing
The consumer wears and regularly washes and irons the garment, all are stages that require energy and water.
Phase 5: Disposal, 0.3 kg CO2
Worn-out garments are often thrown away with regular trash. Clothes are then burned together with household waste and other remains, during which emissions are released.