In honor of World Water Day, we thought we should highlight some facts about how water is used (and abused) in the fashion industry, and ways we can alleviate the strain on this precious natural resource.
Photo of Anj Kumari taken by EST/WST in the remote village of our nettle collective in Eastern Nepal.
1. Cotton is one of the most “thirsty” crops
Cotton is the most important fiber in the fashion industry, but it’s also one of the most straining on fresh water. According to WWF, it can take up to 20,000 liters of water to produce a single Kg of cotton, enough for one T-shirt or a pair of jeans. Meanwhile, some of the biggest cotton-producing countries, such as India and Pakistan, are also some of the most arid countries that are short on fresh water. By purchasing clothing or accessories made from less water intensive fibers- such as hemp or nettle- next time you go shopping, you can reduce your global water footprint. At the same time, increasingly more brands are making responsible choices to conserve water, like Levi’s, who is making a portion of their jeans using recycled water.2. Textile processing is responsible for 20 percent of global water pollution
Aside from the disproportionate share of pesticides and insecticides used in to produce cotton, estimated at 11 percent and 24 percent of total global use respectively, processing and dying fabric is another major source of pollution. Synthetic dyes are most commonly used in production, but they contain a toxic slush of chemicals and heavy metals that have adverse effects on all forms of life. Some 72 toxic chemicals have been identified in water solely from textile dyeing. Organizations such as Five P Venture and Indigenous Industries are helping to popularize natural and non-toxic dyes, which come in an array of bold and vibrant colors thanks to fruits, vegetables, tree barks, and other natural materials. Five P also works with organic cotton in order to reduce the demand for pesticides and insecticides that pollute their local waterways. The must see documentary, River Blue, released last year, uncovers how the fashion industry plays a major role in destroying our world's rivers.3. Synthetic microfibers from clothing are covering our shorelines
Studies over the past several years have found that tiny synthetic fibers make up 85 percent of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. These microfibers are being ingested by fish and other animals, eventually making their way up the food chain. Fleece and other synthetic textiles are the main culprits, as their fibers shed into washing machines and pass right through water treatment filters on their way to the ocean. It’s still too soon to know how these synthetic microfibers will impact our health, but given the chemicals that go into their production, it’s probably better to play it safe. Shopping natural fibers is the best alternative to avoid microfiber pollution, but if you need to buy synthetics, check out Guppyfriend for your next laundry day.
Building a better future
This list is by no means exhaustive, there is much more that we can all do to protect the 71 percent of our planet that is covered with water, and to ensure that everyone around the world has access to clean water. WaterHarvest is one organization working hard to improve access to clean water in rural regions of India, and EST/WST is donating $10 from every purchase from our Handloom Organic Denim to support their projects. Additionally, for a more complete list of actions you can take, visit WorldWaterDay.org.
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