Not Just a Shirt on Your Back

Ever wonder what is involved in making your favorite T-shirt? Probably not, so here's a crash course. Long before your shirt arrived at a store, a farmer plowed, planted and sowed the cotton. He watered, fertilized, and sprayed the growing plants with pesticides and herbicides so bugs wouldn't eat them and weeds wouldn't kill them.

Once picked, the cotton was trucked to a processing plant to be washed, pressed and packed. It was then shipped overseas to a mill to be bleached, spun, and woven, and then on to another factory for cutting, sewing, and stamping with colorful ink. Finally, that T-shirt was wrapped, boxed, and crated before barged to a port and then shipped by rail to a warehouse.

From there your T-shirt was trucked to a department store, where someone unloaded it and gave it to an employee who unwrapped it, put it on a hanger, and slapped a $9.99 "On Sale" sticker on it. The next day you walk in the store and say "Wow, what a deal on a cool T-shirt."

Natural resources are never "on sale"

Here are a few facts to keep in mind: it takes 250 gallons of water to grow cotton for one shirt. Although conventionally grown cotton occupies only about 3 percent of the available farmland globally, it demands an enormous quantity of chemicals to produce — about 20 percent of all poisonous pesticides and 22 percent of toxic herbicides currently used on the planet go to cotton production.

Obviously, making something as simple as a T-shirt requires considerable natural resources, fuel, machinery, time, and manpower. Yet because we live in a culture of "disposable fashion," we often don't think twice about throwing away an unwanted shirt. We simply get rid of it because it's out of style, no longer fits, or we just got tired of it. But by recycling we can give old clothes a new life, and become active protectors of the environment as well.