What Does Water Consumption in Clothes Mean?

by Adel

It is now common to see a shirt tag state how much water consumption was required to make it. But what does it mean, and why does it matter?

Simply put, the water mark refers to the amount of water used to produce the material used in the piece of clothing. However, there is a lot more than meets the eye with this tale. 

The more water used in a shirt or a pair of pants, the more it impacts the environment. With the growing concern towards the environment from the masses, companies have started to put water usage on their clothes as way to show how environmentally friendly they are. But much like the “BPA Free” tags on bottles, these water usage tags ado not tell the whole story.

watering crops

Who Are Most Affected?

Often these products are made in water scarce areas, like India and Pakistan, so using a lot of water can have a real impact. The people around these clothes could have drunk the water instead. Considering more than 2 billion people live in countries with water scarcity, this is a serious matter. It is also worth mentioning that the people benefiting from these clothes are most often not the same as those affected by their water use. 

Current estimates put the water consumption of cotton to make a single shirt or pair of pants at about 2,000 liters of water. That is enough water to keep one person healthy for nearly 2 years. Cotton is also one of the most water dependent crops on in the planet.  

The water usage tags only apply to natural linens like cotton, or wool. Other inorganic materials like polyester are made of PET, so they could not have the tag. Both types of materials affect the environment though, just in different ways. For more on the difference between cotton and polyester, go here

The Two Factors Water Consumption Does not Factor:

  1. Water After Production: Clothes will need to be washed after they are made. The more often a shirt is washed the more water is used. The way a shirt is washed also greatly affects its water consumption.
  2. Lifecycle of the Clothes: Fast fashion is the latest trend in the fashion industry. Companies are making clothes that go bad quicker. Consumers then need to buy new clothes much more frequently. These clothes go bad so the consumer spends more with the company. But it ultimately has a greatly negative impact on the environment and water availability. 

What Can You Do to Reduce Water Consumption?

No matter what we buy, we are affecting the environment. The best thing to do is not support these huge companies making situations worse. Most of the worlds pollution comes from governments and companies, not regular people. But we allow these companies to continue polluting the world by supporting their business.

The best way to stop these businesses is with our dollars. Spending money with companies that make long lasting products sends a specific message. While it is tempting to buy cheap clothes, but usually you will end up spending more since you will need to buy clothes more often. So, if you can, buy better long-lasting clothes and textiles when possible. 

Buy Organic:

Organic cotton is more sustainably grown cotton. It uses less water, pesticides, and a host of other harmful chemicals. It is grown in areas which can support cotton with less outside water. Look for certified organic products to further help where you can. Organic cotton products are more often found in bed linens. So it is important to keep an eye out, not just when clothes shopping. 

Bed Linens:

While bed linens are bigger and use more cotton, they are usually longer lasting than clothes. But it is still important to remember proper care of them. The more they are washed, the more water is wasted. 

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