Global demand for “fresh” water will increase by up to 30% by 2050, from 4,600 km3 to about 6,000 km3 per year, according to a study recently published in the scientific journal Nature.
The United Nations (UN) warns that water is a finite resource, the demand for which is increasing with population growth and the accelerated growth of goods and services, and the climate crisis is making the situation worse.
Globally, the use of water for agriculture represents 70% of the total used, and the demand for water for this purpose will increase by 60% by 2025.
But with the global population likely to grow to 10.2 billion people by 2050 and food demand by 60%, the ever-increasing use of water raises more problems, but also the desire to generate solutions.
According to a report by the European Parliament (EP) and the European Environment Agency, the food industry has the greatest impact on the environment, but the textile industry also has one of the most significant harmful effects. Other sectors with a large negative impact are real estate, transportation and household goods such as furniture.
The fashion industry is responsible for consuming 79,000 billion liters of water annually, according to a study published in April 2020. In March 2022, researchers pointed out that 20% of global wastewater is generated by the clothing industry. And if the world’s population will grow, as predicted, to 8.5 billion people by 2030, the consumption of textiles and, implicitly, water, will increase at alarming rates.
Already, the number of clothes bought in the European Union, per person, has increased by 40% in just a few decades, according to the EP, due to falling prices and the speed with which the industry delivers products to customers, a type of fashion known as “fast fashion “.
The negative effect of the food we eat and the clothes we buy on water is therefore huge.
The effects of the food industry on the environment
In 2021, the European Union imported almost 138 million tonnes of food, but at the same time wasted 153.5 million tonnes of food, a recent report by the organization Feedback EU revealed.
And along with food, European countries also waste huge amounts of water. For the production of one kilogram of meat, for example, it is necessary to use between 5,000 and 20,000 liters of water, while one kilogram of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 liters of water.
Beef, mutton and pork require a huge volume of water, unlike vegetables and fruit, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Great Britain (IME), quoted by The Guardian.
Thus, while one kilogram of beef consumes over 15,400 liters of water, and one of mutton consumes over 10,400, the production of one kilogram of tomatoes or cabbage requires between 200 and 250 liters of water.
Solutions to avoid the impact of human food consumption on water
In this regard, recent years have brought the growing variety of plant-based beverages, with now more than 20 basic ingredients for “alternative milks,” such as beans, grains, and nuts, according to Ethical Consumer.
Compared to cow’s milk, which uses 628 liters of water to produce one liter, one liter of “almond milk” uses 371 liters of water, and one liter of “rice milk” uses 270 liters. But just 16 almonds require the use of 57 liters of water, and most almonds are grown in drought-stricken California, according to the New York Times.
“Oat milk” and soy milk are the best options for those who want to help conserve water resources, according to the scientific journal Science, cited by Statista. The two alternatives consume respectively 48 and 28 liters of water to produce one liter of liquid.
Researchers from the British magazine Ethical Consumer (EC) suggest the production of alternative milk at home to avoid unfriendly packaging or, where it is desired to buy, opting for milk certified as organic, to prevent contamination of waters.
How much water is used to produce a t-shirt
Both clothing manufacturers and their buyers bear a great responsibility when it comes to the huge carbon footprint that the textile industry has on the environment.
The production of raw materials, their transformation into fibers, the weaving of clothes and their dyeing require enormous amounts of water, but also chemicals, including pesticides, for the cultivation of raw materials such as cotton.
On the other hand, consumers use water, energy and chemicals when washing, drying and ironing clothes, and often do not realize that the microplastics from the clothes they buy often end up in nature.
Less than half of used clothes are collected for reuse or recycling when they are no longer needed, and only 1% are recycled into new clothes, as technologies that would allow clothes to be recycled into virgin fibers are only now emerging, according to the European Parliament .
Efforts to take shorter showers or turn off the water when brushing our teeth to avoid waste pale in comparison to the amount of water used to produce cotton, one of the biggest consumers and polluters of fresh water, according to the EC and The Conscious Challenge.
The average amount of water used per kilogram of cotton worldwide is 10,000 liters, while hemp requires 2,000 liters per kilogram.
Thus, a 250-gram cotton T-shirt consumes approximately 2,500 liters, i.e. the needs of a person who consumes two liters of water per day, for almost three and a half years. A pair of jeans weighing 800 grams consumes 8,000 liters of water.
In 2013, the water consumed by India’s cotton exports would have been enough to supply 100 liters of water daily for a year to 85% of the country’s population. In reality, however, over 100 million Indians did not have access to a safe source of water. A May 2022 report by the European Parliamentary Research Service argues that the environmental impact of organic cotton is lower than conventional cotton, as it uses less water and pollutes less.
Polyester uses less water, but the European Environment Agency estimates that 13,000 tonnes of microfibres from clothes are washed into waters every year on the European continent, and clothes, especially those made of synthetic polyester, bear a large part of the blame.
Viscose, a wood-based fiber, has the potential to be a more sustainable alternative to oil-derived synthetics, but only if its production practices change. The main viscose-producing countries, China, India and Indonesia, were found to be dumping untreated sewage into local waters, according to the Changing Markets foundation, cited by EC.
How our clothing choices can help reduce pollution
The European Parliament argues that solutions to the textile industry’s impact on water include developing new clothes rental businesses, designing products so they can be reused and recycled in a circular economy.
At the same time, the EU legislative authority believes that the effect of clothing on the environment can be considerably reduced by persuading consumers to buy fewer, better quality clothes and their orientation towards more sustainable choices.
In 2017, British climate action NGO WRAP found that the most important way to reduce carbon emissions, water wastage and waste in the fashion industry was to increase the lifespan of our clothes.
This can be done in various ways, which also help to build a stronger community: by upcycling (using an object at the end of its life to create another), repairing, swapping clothes with relatives, friends or even strangers and buying second-hand (second-hand) clothes. In Great Britain, a cafe has even been created where locals gather to grow plants used in dyeing clothes, to combat the waste of 150 liters of water per kilogram of dyed fabric.
Recycling should be the last option for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint, as 87% of the fibers used in clothing end up being incinerated or landfilled, according to the EC. But when it comes to cotton, recycling reduces the water resources used in its production.
The circular economy in Romania
In Romania, the Government adopted at the beginning of October a decision regarding the approval of the National Strategy regarding the Circular Economy.
The “circular economy” towards which the governors are obliged to direct the local one refers to a model of production and consumption that involves sharing, renting, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as much as possible, so that the life the life of the goods is extended.
Romania is last in the European Union in terms of circular economy, due to poverty but also due to education, according to sociologists.
Source: European Parliament, Ethical Consumer
Tags: clothes, water, food, waste,
Publication date: 02-01-2023 21:56