Water in the Fashion Industry
Fast fashion today is designed for a quick turnover; promoting seasonal trends and cheap products to create a continuous cycle of profit. This results in extensive water consumption and pollution, with beginning to end stages from cotton irrigation to fabric finishing all being a culprit in the hazardous and unsustainable cycle the fashion industry continues to churn daily.
Once being the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea has shrunk drastically from the impact of irrigation canals channelling water from the 2 major rivers that feed the sea. An increase of these canals in the 1960s made this system unsustainable, and cotton irrigation has impacted one of the worst ecological disasters with water levels at roughly 10% to its original state 50 years ago. This has affected local communities; creating an economic collapse and health risk to residents. Cotton makes up roughly 90% of all natural fibres used in the textiles industry and the demand is ever-growing with clothing manufacturers continuously increasing the pace of disposable fashion. The global average to create 1 kg of cotton is 10,000 litres. The results are detrimental to our ecosystems.
Switching to more natural fibres such as hemp, flax and nettle prove a great deal more sustainable than cotton; requiring less land and water. Hemp, for example, requires little irrigation, with cotton using roughly 4 times the amount of water and twice the amount of land.
Dyeing and treatment of garments makes up roughly 17-20% of all industrial water pollution according to the World Bank, with water primarily being used in the dyeing process to remove excess dye. These chemicals often escape treatment and work their way back into freshwater sources. The Citarum river in Indonesia has over 200 textile factories along its river bank. This is the most polluted river in the world. Residents that live along the river rely on this water source, yet clothing manufacturers often dump chemicals without any treatment. Similarly, to the Aral Sea, this is damaging to the health of local communities as well as destroying their access to clean water for drinking and washing.
Technologies such as water-less dyes have been created to minimise pollution, with less chemicals involved and nearly no water being used in the process. This is an innovative step in stopping mass water wastage and preventing further damage to our planet.
A large amount of all unused fabric cut offs and our own wardrobe ends up in landfills, increasing opportunity for chemicals from the materials to leak into our surface and groundwater supplies. Rather than being binned, textiles should go to textile banks for recycling, or clothing can simply be donated to charity shops for further usage. Some clothing companies are also supporting schemes to encourage consumers to bring in clothing for recycling or recycling fabric in their production. Encouraging movements like these are vital to ensure they continue, as well as getting more companies involved in this way of thinking.
You have the power as a consumer to support or make change to necessary sustainable actions. If we begin to recognise these solutions and expand on them, we can save our precious ecosystems as well as the lives of those that depend on this water for their own survival.