Reduce The Impact of Your Cotton T-shirt

October 26, 2021


You are probably wearing a T-shirt now. Or you have a few hours ago. Or you will a few hours from now. But did you know that each of your T-shirts needs approximately 2,700 liters of water to come to life? Sounds like a lot.

Let us give you some perspective on this as just a number alone does not mean anything. 

The total volume of water on our planet is estimated at 1.386 billion km³ (333 million cubic miles), more than 97% of which is salty and 2% is snow and ice. So in the best case, close to 1% is liquid freshwater, and crops consume 70% of it. 

What about cotton? Undoubtedly, it loves water as, though estimates vary, traditional cotton production can take close 10,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of cotton fabric, which is 50,000 glasses of water. So, just one of your favorite T-shirts is worth 13,500 glasses of water, the amount you consume for 3 years on average.

However, lots of measures have been taken in the last few years to reduce the impact of fashion on water supply. The agricultural sector around the globe is encouraged to develop more sustainable farming methods not only when it comes to cotton but also for other crops. 

For instance, WWF’s “Better Cotton Initiative” (BCI) is the world’s largest cotton sustainability program, providing training on more sustainable agricultural practices to more than two million cotton farmers in more than 20 countries. The goal of the organization is by 2020 to train five million farmers around the globe and to have Better Cotton account for nearly 30% of global cotton production. International brands and retailers, among which IKEA, Nike, United Colors of Benetton, Asos, Decathlon, are also embracing the BCI’s initiative. For instance, since September 2015, IKEA has committed itself to use only sustainable cotton, either recycled or grown with less water and pesticides, in its production processes.

However, having farmers and companies take measures to reduce the impact of cotton production and use on the environment is just one step towards greater sustainability. The truth is that we individually can take some small steps to contribute to this global movement. Each small step matters and eventually turns into a big change. Here are three ways to reduce the impact of your cotton T-shirt:

cotton T-shirt water

Increase the lifetime of your clothes

We live in a world where fash fashion reigns. H&M alone sold more than 2.6 billion clothing units in 2018/2019, meaning that one out of three bought a piece of clothing from the brand. And imagine how many brands are out there? 

Most of these clothes become trash after a few times of seeing the world. Globally, 80% of discarded textiles end in landfills, while only 20% are actually reused or recycled. The U.S. alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. These clothes can sit there for more than 200 years, and as they decompose, they emit methane, which is even more potent and dangerous than carbon. 

However, wearing a T-shirt for an additional nine months reduces its water footprint by about 5% to 10%. The average expectancy of clothes is between two and three years. But when you take good care of them like washing them less frequently, avoiding drying and ironing, and using less detergent, you can prolong their life.

Opt for organic cotton

Certified organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers, which automatically reduces its impact on water pollution. At the same time, conventional cotton uses nearly 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides. On the other hand, buying a T-shirt made of organic cotton would save 2,457 liters of water, as growing cotton organically uses significantly up to 91% less water than conventional cotton.

Look for other alternatives

Brands around the world are embracing raw, natural, renewable, or recycled materials such as flax, linen, monocel, recycled polyester. They are also using less water and chemicals in the process of dyeing to reduce their impact on water supply and pollution. Why not wearing a T-shirt made out of recycled plastic bottles?!

These are just some ways to reduce your footprint on our planet’s water resources. As Tony Robbinson once said: “The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” So, our final advice is: use your imagination and commit yourself to preserving the Earth!

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