Massive amounts of water are diverted from communities to create textiles, the effects of which are especially felt in regions that face water scarcity. The fashion industry consumes 93 billion cubic meters of water annually.1 Interventions are necessary to both reduce water consumption and to address the polluting practice of textile manufacturing.
Reducing Water Consumption
When it comes to the amount of water consumed in textile production, conventional cotton ranks as the most water intensive crop. It is also the most frequently produced. Polyester, another ubiquitous material, uses the second-highest amount of water.
According to Textile Exchange, organic linen requires little to no water in its cultivation. To manufacture one shirt, linen only uses 6.4 liters of water. That is 88% lower than the water required to produce a conventional cotton shirt.
A majority of a fiber’s water footprint is due to the amount of irrigation required. Industrially grown hemp does not require irrigation and actually can flourish and bioremediate the soil’s health on marginal land.
As a natural protein, wool acts like a fertilizer by slowly releasing valuable nutrients back into the soil, which can improve damaged soil’s water absorption abilities, curbing the need for chemical intervention that drives harmful wastewater runoff. Through controlled grazing management sheep can regenerate soil and protect local waterway health.
Shifting our preference to natural systems that utilize rain-fed fiber crops, and organic practices help improve soil quality and increase water absorption. The future of our water systems depend upon higher rates of water recycling, utilization, and wastewater processing to be incorporated into the design process.
Agents of Contamination
Common watershed contamination issues stem from pesticides that are used to grow conventional natural fibers, and chemicals used in fracking to extract crude oil to create synthetic fibers. Acids, solvents, and heavy metals are also commonly used in the dye and finishing phases of textile production, and further contribute to water contamination.
Solvents are volatile organic compounds used to dissolve substances. They are commonly applied in printing phases of garment processing. Due to high chlorine content, solvent runoff alters the pH, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus levels in rivers, which is extremely toxic to aquatic life.
Surfactants are utilized throughout processing for their cleaning properties. They can be found in detergents, wetting agents, or in plasticizers used to soften synthetic content, but they can be toxic to aquatic organisms and environments.
Nitrogen and phosphorus-based pesticides used to deter mold, weeds and insects. However, they disrupt watersheds when concentrated levels of nitrogen runoff drive eutrophication. The lack of synthetic pesticides in organic farming eliminates chemical runoff in local watersheds, thereby reducing toxics in aquatic life and drinking water.
Textiles in landfills annually account for the release of over 2,000 tonnes of hazardous colorants into soil and waterways. The dyes often contain heavy metals such as lead or cadmium, and are harmful when entering local watersheds.
Address Water Pollution
Each year, half a trillion gallons of freshwater are used in the dyeing process of textiles, amounting to 20% of global industrial water pollution discharged into local watersheds.
Synthetic-based clothing sheds microfibers during production and washing which make up much of the 85% of microplastics found along the ocean shores. These microplastics (<5 mm in size) contain hormone disruptors and bioaccumulate in wildlife, the food chain, air, soil, and even human placenta.
Redefine Garment Care
A single washing of a synthetic garment above 30 degrees Fahrenheit will release 1,174 milligrams of microfibers. By presenting consumers with well-considered garment care instructions, we can lessen microfiber pollution burden on waterways.
Saving Our Waterways: Wastewater Management
Without regulation, chemical wastewater can enter local waterways adversely affecting its frontline communities. GOTS, bluesign®, and Oeko-Tex® fabrics come from certified factories with water waste management systems that do not use water polluting chemicals.
“It is not possible to add pesticides to water anywhere without threatening the purity of water everywhere.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Key Product Considerations:
- Material Origins: Did the processes for growing raw fibers, dyeing, or finishing require large amounts of water?
- Assess Chemical Outputs: Were toxic chemicals used in any stages of cultivation or production that could enter watersheds and adversely affect human or ecosystem health?
- Accountability: Were there regulations and audits in place at the site of production to ensure wastewater was properly managed?
These are some of many products that are fostering cleaner water practices.
Carved in Blue
Carved in Blue is a dope dyed denim collection where dye pellets color the garments rather than aqueous dye baths, reducing water consumption and wastewater outputs. Additionally the bluesign®, Fair Trade, USGBC, Oeko-Tex® certified collection is dyed on Tencel fibers.
Indigo Vat 40% Solution only contains water, indigo and soda, creating cleaner wastewater and dye house practices. Dyestar is Oeko-Tex®, bluesign®, GOTS and Cradle to Cradle Material Health Gold certified.
Denim producer Soorty’s Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified line utilizes water-free dyeing methods to create denim that consumes 85% less water inputs than traditional denim counterparts.
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