Water water everywhere… for my blue jeans?

Posted on 07 October 2008

The other day Jez said to me “Do you know how much water it takes to make a pair of jeans?”…

JeansActually I didn’t, I hadn’t really given it much thought to be honest. I had thought about the pesticides and fertilisers used for growing the cotton and the conditions for workers in maufacturers’ factories but I hadn’t considered the water. The number that Jez told me was absolutely astonishing – was that right? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Doing a bit of research online I found that the figures quoted on different websites varied between 2000 and 6000 litres of water for just one pair of jeans. I also read that to stonewash a pair of jeans takes an additional 20 – 750 litres! Just to put this in perspective the UN recommends that people need a minimum of 50 litres of water per day for the most basic needs such as drinking, cooking and sanitation. Millions don’t even have that.

I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t, at some point, owned at least one pair of jeans. So of course I’m thinking ‘by how many billions are we multiplying this water use to see the REAL figure?’. A gargantuan figure and growing of course.

Cotton PlantWater conservation is an issue for every country in the world and with Climate Change this will only get worse. But for two of the main cotton producing countries, China and India and increasingly more countries in Africa, water shortage is a big problem. On top of this water supplies are poisoned by toxins from the cotton growing itself and, later, other chemical processes such as ‘distressing’ the jeans.

Aside from the obvious effects of drought, lack of water has also lead in some areas to conflict over this precious resource. Do we really need to make the problems worse?

So, what’s the solution?

JeansAs we all know by now, there are pros and cons in all your eco decision-making but first things first; Stop and think. Our Jeans are the staple of our wardrobe, I know, but consider your buying carefully. Jeans are great because they’re tough and long lasting so why rush this decision? Here are some things to consider:

  • Organic cotton still needs a lot of water and so this is one of the times that organic isn’t necessarily the answer – although organic and Fairtrade cotton is definitely better than not!
  • Check out where your cotton is grown and how the water is managed there. Some cotton farmers in Australia are not able to access water for the cotton crops until the needs of the local towns and environment have been met first.
  • Hemp crops require much less water (as well as being higher yield and more pest resistant than cotton) so how about Hemp Jeans? It’s illegal to grow Hemp in the UK and US though so there may be air miles involved.
  • Don’t shy away from pre-loved and recycled jeans. I’m a big fan of vintage and second hand though to some the thought of this is horrifying. But, really, think about the water! Jeeez!

Protected Water Fund, Fixing the Planet, The Panelist, Cotton Australia, All Africa, BBC,

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This post was written by:

Vicky - who has written 234 posts on Green Girls Global Blog.

Vicky coordinates the GGG blogs and is co-founder of the ethical website design team Make Hay. Make Hay build beautiful, accessible websites and provide a green website hosting service run on wind power. Vicky is involved with a local Fairtrade campaign group and loves crafts, design, animals and nature

8 Comments For This Post

  1. Kate says:

    This is amazing, I had read somewhere a few weeks back that denim as a material is supposed to last 10 years. With the way fashions change so quickly I wonder how many people actually wear or keep their jeans for 10 years. Buying vintage or second hand jeans is definitely the way to go.

  2. Amy@GreenGardenista says:

    I hate to say it, but as shocking as the statistics are on the amount of water necessary to create jeans, I’m not sure I could do without them! At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I tend to keep them until they completely wear out, downgrading my favorites as they fade and wear thin into successive categories of yard work, painting, and misc. house project pants. Once I finally let a pair of jeans go they are so worn and covered in paint, caulk, and holes, that they are past the point of decency and must be hidden from the neighbors eyes!

  3. Vicky says:

    Thank you Amy and Kate

    I agree with you both. The key is about consumption, buying unnecessarily and then throwing jeans (or any clothing) away when then could be used elsewhere.

  4. Carla says:

    I have purchased a lot of my jeans on ebay lately. Mostly organic cotton. The rest came from consignment stores. I had no idea that denim required so much water. Thank you for posting this!

  5. Lisa says:

    Sounds like a good reason to buy good jeans if you buy new to make them last. After reading this I will be sure to buy jeans that I know are good brands that I can have for many many years. Another reason I need to lose some weight so I can fit in some old jeans and not have to buy new… I’m all for the hemp jeans! I’m trying to help with some campaigns to get it made legal..

  6. Dawn says:

    Wow! I had no Idea…That verges on criminal – how come this is such a well kept secret? Do they reuse the water from one pair of jeans to another?

  7. N.J.BOND says:

    Jeans making do take lots of water .Premium jeans takes more than the ordinary ones. More and more stylistic man became more artificial process and chemical used water got wasted. They are problems but as it was created it can be solved also by ingunity of man . Instead of re-acting we should prudently act in a creative way to solve problems ,find oppturnity to save mother earth from its problems.

    Organic Era has dawened.We are in the last 3 degades researching on jeans and Organic cottons ,Natural dyed ,Herbal powered Jeans is made. These pants are not prewashed by us as it takes lots of water only at this stage not in its earlier stages.We give quality jeans, for its washing it is to be done on organic washing powder, is done by our customers while they use and wash the light and dark shade setts each unique way with great aesthetics.It is customers own .This unique effect elsewere in crafts called antique Patina , a mellowing effect has great value.It was owing to Indigo dyeson Organic cotton as such has added value to each to washes in the jeans.

    This unique effect is impossible to bring in any artifical ways of processing or washing or jeans . It is the pre washing for artificial chemical shade effect 1000 s litteres wated in mass production ,when this is done by customers after wear this waste of water is not there. A jeans pant can last, if maintained well, for 40 to 50 years .Think of the water saved on chemicals and washing water waste for 40 years . We offer 1000 gms of organic washing powder free along each pant . This will stop polluting water ways and kitchen soil in your garden . The organic washed water is organic manure . The nano partical of herbs when it rubs body skin it is said to remone body toxine through blood streams on the skin. Natural Indigo is herb first latter only it is dyes for humans.A way of natures legacy come to surface in Organic products.

  8. Bobby Fisher says:

    N.J.BOND, Yes, you’r right.
    Jeans production takes a lot of water, but jeans can last 20-30 years.
    I have no idea about other clothing with such parameters.

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