Myles Robertson | Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Greetings green people,
For those of you who know me or have seen me around campus lately, you probably won’t be surprised by the following statement: I do not care for clothes.
Well, I shouldn’t say that. I just don’t understand them. I’ve never worn them before (besides my glorious cape) and the concepts of “matching” and “clashing” and “style” are foreign and bizarre to me. Not to mention I see no utility in them, as my thick green skin keeps me warm all year round.
All this is not to say, however, that clothing is unimportant. Clothing is very clearly significant to a great many people as well as to the economy and the environment. That’s right: Clothing is important to the environment.
To examine how clothing affects the environment, let us first think about what our clothes are made of. Do me a favor, will you? Look at the tag on your shirt. Right above the “Made in Heaven” part (Call me maybe?), there is very likely a number indicating what percent of your shirt is made from cotton, since it is the most commonly used natural fiber in clothing today.
Cotton is a particularly thirsty plant and requires a lot of water to grow. It takes 8,500 gallons of water on average to grow a single kilogram of cotton. A large part of why it takes so much water to grow cotton is because of inefficient irrigation techniques. I’m about to throw some numbers at you, so bear with me for a moment. Fifty-three percent of land used to grow cotton is irrigated, and that land accounts for 73 percent of global cotton production. Twenty to 30 percent of the world’s available freshwater supply is diverted for irrigation purposes, but only 40 to 50 percent of that is actually used in crop growth.
Evaporation accounts for much of this loss, as well as leaky pipes. Maintaining equipment and implementing more efficient techniques, like drip irrigation, which delivers nearly 95 percent of water withdrawn to the roots of crops, would significantly reduce the amount of water needed to be withdrawn for crop growth.
All of that is hard to swallow, so let’s just think of the water footprint of a single article of clothing, shall we? After all is said and done, the average pair of jeans requires almost 11,000 liters of water to produce. That’s a whole lot of water.
So what does this mean for you? Well, for one, you could cut down on the amount of clothing that you buy, and when a piece of clothing runs its course in your life, give it to Goodwill. When you do need new clothing, consider buying it from a company that uses recycled cotton or even from a thrift store, like Goodwill. Reusing and recycling what we already have is a great step towards reducing our impact on the globe. You can also buy clothing made from other, less water-intensive fibers, like bamboo!
More than one billion people in the world live in areas of physical water scarcity, and that number is likely to grow. By reducing your overall water consumption, you can help make a difference in the global issue of water stress and make a courageous fashion statement.
Have a question about the environment or how to go green in your personal life? Wondering about the ethics of dating someone who drives a Hummer? Curious about eco-friendly purchasing options? The GreenMan will be here every other week to answer your questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.