Cotton T-Shirt Production

Anna S.

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  • Cotton

    • Equipment has to be used to prepare soil to plant the cotton, plant the cotton seeds, harvest the cotton, and to remove weeds that compete with the cotton. All of this equipment burns fossil fuels. Fertilizer and pesticides are often used, unless the cotton is farmed organically. Then cotton is pressed into bales to be shipped and processed into cloth.

  • Tags

    • Tags are typically made up of paper and attached to the shirt for sale. They are made up of paper, which comes from harvested trees. The tags that come attached to the shirt are often made of other cloth materials.

  • Dyes

    • Natural dyes, which are sometimes used, come from plants and organic matter. This is not highly damaging to the environment to produce, because it is all natural. Other dyes are created with chemicals.

  • Cardboard

    • In order to ship the t-shirts, they must be placed in boxes, which are typically made of cardboard. Cardboard is created from paper materials obtained through harvesting of trees.

  • Plastic

    • Plastic is used sometimes to attach tags to the shirt, and is also used for packaging. The primary resource used to make plastic is fossil fuels, and if not disposed of properly plastics are highly pollutive.

The Process

  • Cotton is grown

  • Then the cotton is processed into fabrics and threads

  • Then the fabrics (and sometimes threads) are dyed

  • Once the materials are brought together at a factory the process is highly automatic. The fabrics are cut certain ways and stitched together to form the shirt.

  • Once produced the shirts are either packaged in plastic bags, sometimes wrapped around cardboard, and then placed in boxes to be distributed.

  • The t-shirts are distributed and sold to consumers

Product Use

T-shirts are worn as casual clothing, and most everyone owns one. T-shirt usage typically depends on the situation of the consumer. There are many instances where a t-shirt will be kept for a short time, or they may be kept for an entire lifetime. A safe assumption would be anywhere from 1 year to 50 or more years. Often times they are handed down through generations or between families, or may be donated and worn by someone else.


The plastics used for packaging for the shirts often ends up in landfills, or as litter. These take a very long time to break down, and often leak chemicals into the environment and pollute it. A majority of t-shirts end up in landfills, where they either sit until they are broken down or are incarcerated. Chemicals from the dyes leak into the environment, just as with the plastics, and are very damaging. If the shirts are burned, these chemicals, among others, are released into the atmosphere. If the t-shirt is 100% cotton, it breaks down fairly quickly.


The most obvious solution is to donate old t-shirts one is thinking of throwing away. This gives them a new home, without having them end up in landfills and polluting the environment. Also, this eliminates at least somewhat of a demand for new t-shirts to be made. If the shirt appears to old or ragged to be donated, the cloth itself could be washed and eventually combined with other cloths to produce more t-shirts.

The Three R's

Biodiversity is heavily affected by pollution. When we reduce our production, we also reduce our emissions of hazardous pollutants into the environment, allowing it to be healthier for the life living in it and protecting the Earth’s biodiversity. Reusing materials also allows us to reduce our production. We would also need to extract less resources, allowing organisms to keep more of the habitats and necessities. Then, when we recycle we prevent harmful materials, such as plastics, from entering the environment and disrupting the ecosystems of organisms.


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"Surprisingly Compostable Textiles." Hearts Surprisingly Compostable Textiles Comments.

Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

"TeeTreeDesigns." Tee Tree Designs. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

"The Story of Cotton- How Cotton Is Grown." The Story of Cotton- How Cotton Is Grown.

Web. 26 Apr. 2015.