Water Isn't Permanent: The Fast Fashion Industry's Impact
By Ryan Zhao, Grade 7
In this world, not many things are permanent, and water definitely isn’t one of them. With our current water consumption, the following scenario is plausible: It’s 2050, and Ben Jackson has worked tirelessly to spread awareness about the water shortage. “It’s a thirsty planet! Use less water! The clothing companies are lying to us!” he chants, with dozens of other protesters. He’s outside the Capitol Building, the sun glaring down tauntingly. “It’s your fault, it’s his fault, it’s everybody’s fault because you don’t have enough water for anything,” it seems to say. Ben doesn’t know how long he’ll be here. He doesn’t know how long he should be here. But it seems like it’ll be a long time since this is an important event. He suddenly feels nauseous and dizzy, close to passing out. A fellow protester notices him. She brings him around and tells him, “You need to stay hydrated.” Ben, still nauseous, replies, “If only we could.”
This scenario is all too likely, as humanity is using more and more water every year. The population is growing and demands clothing, food, and industrial products. This means that we are running out of water, and quickly. We have only 62 quadrillion gallons of accessible drinking water. Much of this water is contaminated, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that all of this water is usable for drinking and industry. To make a single pair of jeans, you need to use about 10,000 gallons of water. A lot of the water is unusable after, as there are chemicals put in the water to get that distressed, worn-out look. (That’s why the average pair of jeans uses more water than the average t-shirt.) We are making a lot of jeans—nearly 4 billion pairs per year. Now, remember a lot of these pants are washed in a chemical bath, and the runoff almost always goes into a river or lake nearby. This means that the nearby water source is sometimes contaminated and needs to be purified. This takes a lot of effort, and the industrial cost is also pretty high. It’s a vicious cycle. And that’s just clothes — it turns out that only two industries consume almost ¾ of our global water usage. It’s unbelievable. Even worse, they aren’t slowing down, especially textiles.
Clothing companies are using more water than ever under the guise of recycling water and textiles. Many companies are running campaigns that say they recycle and reuse textiles to reduce the cotton or wool needed for new clothes. But this just isn’t happening. A tag might have a label saying, “This was made using 100% recycled materials.” You might think to yourself, “Hmm. I should buy this shirt. It was made using environmentally friendly ways, and I’m increasing demand for these recycled shirts.” Yes, that’s great and all, but 95% of the time, only the tag is made from recycled materials and the shirt is made as usual. It’s a con. Besides clothing, agriculture consumes almost 70% of the water we use, which includes the water used to grow textiles for clothes. Industry uses a little more than 4%. Think about that.
That’s why it’s so important for us to stop using so much water. You’ve probably heard a million times, but I’ll say it again: There are many ways to cut down water usage. You can boycott fast fashion companies. You can take shorter showers. You can stop the sink when you’re brushing your teeth. You can hand wash your dishes. We use water all the time, so if you can’t find something to cut down on, look harder. Who knows? Our future might look a little something like this—
2070 rolls around and there finally isn’t a water shortage. Ben Jackson gazes at his neighborhood, reflecting on what he had done to make this possible. All the protests, all the walks, all the appeals to his government. It hadn’t been in vain after all. In the end, the masses still have power that should be used. Of course, it isn’t paradise yet, but it’s better, and like Ben, we all have the power to make it so. Do what you can, and remember JFK: “Ask not what water can do for you, but ask what you can do for water.”
Cover photo from The Guardian