The Impact of Cotton on Our Water Supply: How Smart Choices Can Make a – Broken Mirror
The Impact of Cotton on Our Water Supply: How Smart Choices Can Make a Difference

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The Impact of Cotton on Our Water Supply: How Smart Choices Can Make a Difference


The Impact of Cotton on Our Water Supply: How Smart Choices Can Make a Difference


A cotton t-shirt. A simple garment, costing just a few dollars on average. It's something that most people wear every day - yet they probably don't know the impact of their purchase on our water supply.

Living on this "Blue Planet" falsely gives us the impression that there is enough water to go around for everyone. But did you know that 97% of the water on our beautiful planet is salty, and 2% is snow and ice? That leaves 1% for us to use for drinking, growing food and other crops like cotton.

Cotton requires a lot of water for cultivation, manufacturing, washing and transportation. More than 2 million tons of cotton are produced annually worldwide— that's about 10% of all the clothing manufactured each year.

Cotton field being harvestedPhoto by Karl Wiggers, via Unsplash


The impact of cotton on our water supply

Let's take a closer look at what goes into manufacturing just one cotton t-shirt.

It takes about 2,700 liters of water to grow the cotton necessary for one t-shirt. To put this in perspective: that is the equivalent of drinking water for one person for about 900 days. Makes one think a bit longer whether we really need that new shirt, no?

Let's take a different perspective and also have a look at what this means in terms of energy: it takes about eleven thousand British thermal units (BTUs) to produce a cotton t-shirt. This is the equivalent amount of energy needed to power a laptop computer for nearly three days or run an air conditioner for over twenty hours.

Now that you know the hard truth (#sorrynotsorry), let us show you how you can make a change. Because, yes you can!

Why not lower your water footprint by air-drying your clothes and only ironing those pieces that need it before you wear them? These two simple actions can save 1/3 of your t-shirt's water footprint. And, they will also save you some valuable time you can spend on something more exciting than your washing.

Weaving cotton and washing machine in minimalistic setting

Photos by Nickolas Nikolic and Planetcare via Unsplash

More smart choices that make a difference (while still getting all the benefits!)

There are plenty of sustainable alternatives available like choosing eco-friendly fabrics such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, linen, hemp, or polyester that use less water during production and release fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Biodegradable clothing is easy on resources and great for recycling. Find more info on sustainable fashion and what you need to know here.

Yet, what will have a huge impact is not buying something new in the first place.

Here are a few simple steps you can take before purchasing a garment to make it more sustainable:

  • Buy from thrift shops and support the sustainable fashion movement while also saving money

  • Repair rather than throw out damaged clothes, another option that saves you some of that hard-earned cookie-dough

  • Alter your clothing to create different looks combining one or more old pieces 
Hands catching water

Photo by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Inspiring initiatives worldwide to save water

To take the strain off water supplies - not only for cotton, because there are many other thirsty crops like sugarcane and rice - WWF has started working with farmers all around the world to educate them about sustainable farming methods.

Sustainable farming is a type of agriculture that aims to minimize environmental impact. It is an approach to food and agriculture that aims to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It's always great to see big global brands making changes. Yet change starts with one person wanting to make a difference and taking action. That's why we'd love to shine a light on these 10 NGOs that are tackling the global water crisis:

  1. Charity: Water - brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

  2. - wants to ensure everyone has access to safe water and sanitation by removing barriers and advocating for system change.

  3. Blood: Water - addresses the water crisis in Eastern Africa by focusing on individuals who were affected by HIV/AIDS.

  4. Water Aid - transforms the lives of the poorest and most marginalized people by improving access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.

  5. Drop in the Bucket - builds wells and sanitation systems at schools throughout sub-Saharan Africa, enabling youth to fully harness the life-changing power of education.

  6. H20 For Life - provides a service-learning opportunity for schools in the United States that helps teachers and students raise awareness about the global water crisis while taking action to provide funds for water, sanitation, and hygiene education project for a partner school in the developing world.

  7. Splash - is a social justice organization committed to the poor, an international development agency disciplined around urban economies, a social enterprise dedicated to putting ourselves out of business, and a safe water company focused on children.

  8. Thirst Project - caters exclusively to educating young people about the water crisis & equips them with the tools to bring it to an end.

  9. Water is Life - provides safe drinking water to people in Haiti, Africa, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and South America. They also developed a water filtration product called The Straw which provides clean drinking water when immersed into a water source.

  10. Water for People - promotes the development of high-quality drinking water and sanitation services, accessible to all, and sustained by strong communities, businesses, and governments.
Cotton flower on cotton textile

Photo by Mia Moessinger via Unsplash

From conservation projects in Haiti to initiatives in Pakistan that are saving millions of litres of water a day; there is hope as we work together towards sustainability.

We can all instigate change by making smart choices about the products we buy and how we use them. Cotton is just one example of something that has a big impact on our water supply, but by being mindful of the things we consume, we can make a difference!

By Stephie Hennekam

By Jennifer Lully

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