Climate change and global warming are real. The signs are all around us. This makes our water footprint much harder to ignore. It’s even more glaring when we take a look inside our closets.
“Low-cost clothing has a high cost attached to it—one to the environment and public health,” explains river conservationist Mark Angelo, whose work was featured in the award-winning 2018 documentary The RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet?, which explores the impact of the textile industry on waterways throughout China, Bangladesh, and India.
Though water waste and contamination have reached epidemic proportions in those regions, the effect is, in fact, global, and environmentalists have pinpointed one key culprit: our denim.
What makes the process of making jeans so poisonous to people and the planet? EcoWatch explains: “Consider just one of the most popular types of jeans today—distressed. To get that ‘lived in’ look, denim is subjected to several chemical-intensive washes.” Those chemicals include cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, copper, and manganese, which has been associated with brain damage.
And that doesn’t even take into account what’s needed to harvest the cotton for those jeans in the first place. The fashion industry relies on water throughout the production process for textiles and garments. It takes on average 10,000 litres of water to cultivate just one kilogram of raw cotton.
The traditional process of making jeans, start with the designers creating a basic pair that hasn’t been distressed yet. Then, before you even get to the water pollution part, chemicals will be used to extract the colour and create that contrast of blue and white that is currently on-trend. This involves a lot of bleach and potassium sprays and other harsh chemicals.
The solution to this problem is simple. Shop responsibly or shop pre-loved pieces. Go for quality over quantity and wear your clothes until they are worn out. Because trends come and go at such a fast pace, a lot of fashion waste is created and all of this ends up in landfills.
An average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of used clothing per person. On average, nationally, it costs cities US$45 per tonne to dispose of old clothing. Moreover, synthetic clothing can take hundreds of years to decompose. By shopping for more quality and classic styles, you are ensuring that what you buy, is not going to go out of style after just a few uses.
Just because we can’t see the negative impact of our actions, doesn’t mean that they are not happening. Eventually, our actions are going to affect us. So before they do, let’s try and make a difference.