We’re using, polluting and exploiting this natural resource at an astonishing rate.
This is happening because, right now, there’s enough water to do it. But it won’t be there forever.
Our tunnel-visioned society isn’t looking at the bigger picture. Consumers can’t see beyond the shelves because brands don’t invite them to.
To expose the reality of what’s behind high-street denim, I’ve traced the lifecycle of an average pair of jeans. The rest of your jeans’ life is dependant on you; how you wear them, care for them, and how you chuck them away. I hope by the end of this article that - if you don’t already - you’ll treasure your jeans. They’ve been through a lot.
You could fill 70 bath tubs with the amount of water used to grow the cotton that makes one pair of jeans.
Don’t get me wrong - the cotton industry is a crucial lifeline for thousands of communities across the globe. 70% of all textiles contain cotton, and the production of the fabric is an essential industry.
Never should (or could) the human world stop growing cotton. Yet if we reduced our cotton consumption a little, the planet would thank us a lot.
As well as the water being used, there’s the water being polluted in the process. Cotton accounts for a quarter of the world’s insecticide use. In heavy rain, the chemicals used in cotton farming seep into run off water, reaching the lakes, rivers and waterways that communities drink from, wash with, and rely upon.
It’s not uncommon for pesticide residue to be found in food, especially meat - which isn't a shocker when you consider the food cycle. The tiny volumes of pesticide in our dinner, remaining after having circuited the entire food cycle, is linked to thousands of cases of cancer every year. Consider the impact that the same pesticide, this time directly from the cotton fields, has on the communities that drink and live off this water every day.
It’s estimated that approximately 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. This process uses chemicals toxic to both the lungs of factory workers and the drinking water of their families.
Each pair of jeans you own has travelled approximately 10,000 km by boat and 4,000 km by truck to get to you.
In recent years, India has used the same amount of water in its cotton exports as would supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million of India’s population do not have access to fresh water.
By that time, 47% of us will be facing severe water shortages. That’s almost 5 times the number that do now.
If you wore each pair of your jeans for an extra 9 months, you’d be reducing your water footprint by up to 10%. A little goes a long way.
It doesn’t really matter how you chuck away your old jeans. If they go to charity, a friend, or if you make them into something new; that denim will eventually end up in landfill. So it’s not about how you get rid of your jeans. It’s about buying them in the first place.