by Julie Malone
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and National Geographic provides a new video, “Make Each Choice Count,” based on water usage in textile production. The growth, manufacturing, transporting, and washing of cotton uses huge amounts of water.
For example, it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt , which is enough water for one person to drink for 900 days. And, let’s not forget the wear and tear on the t-shirt once purchased. One load of washing uses 40 gallons of water and five times more energy to dry it. How often do you wash that t-shirt: once a week or month? Fortunately, there are ways to help the problem, skip the drying and ironing process and hang your t-shirt to air dry. You might save 1/3 of your t-shirt’s carbon footprint. The choices we make today affect the future needs of others.
Our society believes there is plenty of consumable water to go around for everyone. Not really. Our planet’s water is 97 percent salty and two percent snow and ice, which leaves less than one percent that we can access. However, 70 percent of that one percent is used to grow crops. Cotton is a very thirsty crop. Can you imagine how many t-shirts are in our city, towns, state, country, globally, and on this planet?
Waterfootprint.org, a learning platform for connecting diverse communities interested in sustainability, equitability and efficiency of water use, mentions that cotton farming is the largest consumer of water in the apparel supply chain, and is used in 40 percent of all clothing worldwide.
Fortunately, there is good news from the industry. Companies are making great strides in reducing their water footprint for cotton. Major textile brands are looking towards more eco-friendly cotton production. WWF works with farmers and the businesses that buy their crops to develop sustainable farming methods. This takes the strain off water supplies, not just for cotton, but for other “thirsty crops” like sugar cane and rice.
Farmers in Pakistan and India, as well as CEOs in the United States and South Africa, are being helped by the WWF to assist people to use water more responsibly. With WWF’s support, the Better Cotton Initiative is working with farmers to grow cotton with less water. The Better Cotton Initiative is an intense cooperation consisting of a multi-stakeholder group of organizations that work together to find better, more sustainable way of growing cotton to introduce to the public.
In Pakistan, the Initiative has worked with 75,000 farmers who, as a result, have reduced their water use by 39 percent and increased their income by 11 percent. They also used 47 percent less pesticide and 39 percent less chemical fertilizer. By using less pesticides and chemical fertilizer in the United States, the rivers are less likely to transport pollutants to The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, a large region of water that is very low in oxygen, and therefore can't support life. That’s good for companies, good for other communities downstream, good for the fish, birds and other creatures that depend on rivers and wetlands, and good for people like you who care about where your t-shirts come from. The textile industry can bring a better product to the customer, however, it is up to the customer to play their part in water efficiency also.
The Dead Zone's website shows an animation of how the above chemicals, and water from farms, rivers, streams, feed lots, and city streets from 40 percent of the U.S. runs down the Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas, Red, and Missouri Rivers, where the water all collects in the Mississippi River and down to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. The result: bottom-dwellers such as snails, worms, starfish, and crabs can't escape the dead zone's oxygen poor water - so they die. Fish and shrimp swim out of the area, which could cause shrimp supply to drop and seafood prices to rise.
Julie Malone, based in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is an environmental researcher. She is graduate student at the University of Denver and has a M.A.S. degree in Environmental Policy and Management and is working on her M.S. in Legal Administration. Her academic work can be found on knowourplanet.com.