March 22 is World Water Day and this year (2017) the theme is wastewater. GWP offers two blogs about this subject. The first, by Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer, explains why she is going to re-think her wardrobe.
Fortunately, I haven’t had an actual wardrobe malfunction and I hope you haven’t either. But next time you decide to buy a new pair of jeans, a blouse or a shirt, consider the following:
When you buy your jeans, let’s say at a local store in Stockholm (where the GWP global secretariat is located), they have travelled more than the highest frequent flier road warrior. Most probably the cotton came from Uzbekistan, where people suffer from limited water access for drinking and livestock feeding. The cotton may have gone on to be colored in Bangladesh or Pakistan using technology that pollutes local rivers. Skilled Vietnamese or Thai women then tailored those jeans into a “must-have” cut, and a Chinese company finally sold them to the local distributor.
So I decided, reluctantly, to look at my wardrobe. The results astonished me: I have two favorite jeans that I wear frequently, two that are rather chic waiting for nice occasions, two black ones and a red one, and three pairs that are old fashioned. There is another pair from my sister and yet another that was slightly damaged by my dog. In total, twelve pairs of jeans! Did I really need all of them?
According to Steven Leahy, author of Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products (the winner in the scientific category of the 2015 Green Book Festival), it takes more than 7,600 liters (2,000 gallons) of water to make a single pair of jeans.
The textile industry is one of the most chemically intensive industries in each step of the production chain. Pesticides are used for growing fibers, dyes, and additives. Each of these processes involve enormous quantities of water for only a small output of finished fabric. The consumer (you and I) end up contributing to this environmental stress: detergents and other pollutants end up untreated in rivers and lakes. The textile industry is also an engine of economic prosperity, employing millions of people, many of them women, in Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa.
The days of the “dirty” textile industry are gradually going vanish. The industry is proactive in eliminating dangerous substances and using locally grown or produced raw materials. Many companies are entering voluntary agreements to reduce their water, carbon, and energy footprint. This is promising. However, there also needs to be a shift on the consumer side (that’s right, you and I again). Today I will pack my unworn jeans to take them to second hand shop. And when the spring fashions hit the stores, I will keep my purchases to only what I actually need.
If you want to know more about the “value chain of water pollution”, you are welcome to attend the Stockholm World Water Week 2017 seminar on Water and waste management: the case of the textile industry. The seminar will present possible paths from “field to fashion” to address environmental exploitation and health hazards in the textile industry.
The second blog on this topic will be published on World Water Day 22 March. On the same day, GWP will also conduct a Facebook LIVE interview with Mr. Rami Abdel Rahman, Program Manager at the Sweden Textile Water Initiative/SIWI.