How Much Water Are We Wasting? Fashion’s Impact On Our Water

Close up of water falling into a pool

Water is the world’s most precious resource, and as the global economy continues to impact our climate, preserving the earth’s water supply has become a much larger topic of discussion. But there’s something you probably haven’t talked about that has already sucked up 900 days’ worth of drinking water. In fact, you’re probably touching it right now. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed your cotton shirt, then you’re right on the money. One cotton shirt takes about 2,700 liters of fresh water to make, and about 2 billion cotton shirts are made every year. This (along with many other factors) makes cotton, and therefore the fashion industry, the second-worst consumer and polluter of earth’s water supply. So let’s roll up our sleeves, take a deep dive into the ways that fashion impacts our water, and find ways that you as the consumer can help slow the flow of textile pollution.

Fashion’s Impact On Our Water

The fashion industry consumes 1.5 trillion liters of water per year. More than a half-trillion gallons of freshwater are used in the dyeing process, and 20 percent of all industrial wastewater is produced by the textile industry alone. 2.6 percent of all global freshwater is used to specifically produce cotton, at a time in the world when 750 million people are impacted by drinking water scarcity. In fact, 85 percent of India’s daily water needs would be met by cotton production’s daily water consumption. So it is accurate to say that the fashion industry is taking water away from people in need.

Fashion’s Impact On Water Pollution

But water usage isn’t the only problem. The textile industry is also responsible for severe amounts of water pollution. Fashion wastewater can be identified by a specific blend of pollutants, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. That’s a deadly mix of chemicals, made even deadlier by the fact that in some countries, up to 90 percent of textile wastewater is dumped into the rivers of developing countries with no treatment. This means that many water sources are being pumped full of toxins and these tend to impact poor communities and native aquatic species. 

Even our oceans have been greatly polluted by fashion, as the textile industry pumps 190,000 tons of microplastic fibers into our oceans every year. These fibers also absorb and carry toxins such as the pesticides used on cotton and the chemicals used in dyeing.

So to sum things up: on top of using tremendous amounts of our most precious resource, fashion also heavily pollutes the water that’s left behind.

How Can We Use Less Water In Fashion? 

The list of ways you can help are simple and straightforward. You can look into the specific fabrics within each garment and choose to buy clothes with only natural, sustainably grown, and organic fibers. For a list of good fibers that you can trust, check out our previous post.

You can further help by avoiding the following fibers, and by urging those around you to avoid them as well:

  • Non-Organic Cotton
  • Leather
  • Polyester
  • Rayon
  • Viscose
  • Modal

And of course, the most profound solutions can be applied at home. You can reduce your own personal impact on our waters by:

  • Buying fewer clothes
  • Buying higher-quality clothes
  • Checking for quality by examining stitching and fabric thickness
  • Repairing clothing whenever possible
  • Shopping second hand or swapping clothes with friends whenever possible
  • Re-evaluating your washing routine!

The last (but definitely not least) way to turn your wardrobe water-friendly is to shop from sustainable brands that are committed to improving the fashion industry’s eco-impact. Look for brands that use sustainable sourcing methods, reuse old or deadstock fabrics, and practice sustainable manufacturing! 

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