Fast Fashion and its Impact on Water
Updated: Jan 29
Water isn’t something we would normally associate with fashion, but it’s time we started to think about the global consequences of our actions.
Something as small as buying a few t-shirts can have large repercussions on our oceans as well as impacting numerous countries around the world.
Water. We see it everywhere; in rivers, oceans and even puddles in our own gardens.
So why is it that so many countries are faced with the problem of water scarcity?
Whilst water covers around 71% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of this is freshwater (water that we are able to use). Whilst this may not seem like much, a further analysis shows that 2.5% of this is unavailable to use – it’s trapped in glaciers, ice caps, or, in some cases, is too far underground to be extracted cheaply. This results in some areas having insufficient water supplies.
As we can see, our water supply is fairly limited already – but we aren’t using it solely for our consumption. When it comes to the production of clothes, a lot of water is needed. Experts say that cotton production uses the largest amount of water compared to other agricultural practices.
Did you know that around 20,000 litres of water is used to grow 1kg of cotton? That’s enough to produce just 1 pair of jeans and 4 T-shirts!
During the production of cotton, ground water stores are often diverted so that the water can be used to irrigate the plants. This results in freshwater loss through evaporation and inefficient water management.
With the lifespan of clothes being shorter than ever before, you could argue that the demand for cotton is increasing. However with this growing demand, comes the increasing need for water.
This graph shows the yearly production of cotton in America. Whilst it seems to vary each year, we can see that the overall trend shows an increase in cotton production.
Fast fashion has an enormous impact on our water supplies, and during times where many countries (such as Israel, Qatar, Lebanon and India) are facing severe water shortages, we should do everything we can to ensure that we aren’t adding to the damage.
This can be done in a number of ways – perhaps by upcycling your clothes, borrowing from those around you or maybe even just buying fewer items!
However, fast fashion isn’t just detrimental to our freshwater supplies – it can have devastating impacts on our oceans and ecosystems. Cheap materials are often chosen to be used in the production of these garments.
Polyester, being one of these materials, is very harmful to marine life. When it is washed, microfibres containing plastic are released into the water. This contaminated water finds its way back to the oceans where fish and other species take it in. The microfibres are small and so appear to have little impact on these animals, but the sad truth is that their stomachs become full with the plastic fibres and they feel full – meaning that many of them starve to death.
However, this is not the only effect fast fashion has on our oceans. 200 tonnes of water is used to produce 1 tonne of dyed fabric. This water is then often released back into rivers - filling our oceans with toxic chemicals. Textile dyeing is the 2nd largest polluter of clean water and often endangers marine life – the chemicals build up inside them and can disrupt their hormones.
The impact of fast fashion on our oceans is too large to ignore – it’s vital that we act now and buy clothes which are produced more sustainably. Instead of thinking your actions don’t have an impact, you could consider the possibility that they do.
How Much Water is There on Earth? (2020) Retrieved from USGS : https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
Water Facts - Worldwide Water Supply (2020) Retrieved from Bureau of Reclamation:
The true cost of fast fashion (11/3/2020) Retrieved from The Ocean Conservation Trust:
Cotton (2020) Retrieved from the WWF:https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/cotton