Thursday September 10th, 2020 Water Blog

The simple cotton T-Shirt – water footprint and chemical impact


The water footprint of a product or service is the volume of fresh water used to produce it. This includes all the steps of the production chain. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed but also worth considering is the water polluted. The total water footprint of a product breaks down into three categories of water.  These are termed blue, green and grey water footprint. [1]

According to,  the blue water footprint is the volume of freshwater that evaporated from the global blue water resources to produce goods and services.

The green water footprint is the volume of water evaporated from rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture.

The grey water footprint is the volume of polluted water that associates with the production of all goods and services for the individual or community.

Coming back to the cotton T-shirt. A shocking 2700 litres are used to produce 1 cotton shirt. [2] In order to get 1 kg of final cotton textile, 11,000 litres of water on average is needed. So a shirt weighing 250 gram, costs 2700 litres.

Breaking down where the water is used in the process: 45% is irrigation water taken up by the cotton plant; 41% of the total is rainwater evaporated from the cotton field; and finally 14% is water needed to dilute the wastewater flows that result from the use of chemicals and fertilisers within the industry.

Fast fashion therefore will have a huge impact on water resources worldwide.  In the major cotton production areas globally, the use of water in the process is a growing environmental concern. Adding to that is the environmental burden of the chemicals used. The Indus River dolphin (Platanista minor) is one of the world’s rarest mammals and the second most endangered freshwater river dolphin.[3] Approximately 1,100 specimens of this species exist today in the lower reaches of the Indus River in Pakistan. This species has gradually declined because of factors including water pollution, due to pesticide runoff from mainly cotton production.

It would be great to see a reduction in demand for fast fashion, as one step to reduce the water scarcity impact and the chemical pollution it causes.





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