How much water in a T-Shirt?

It can take more than 2000 litres of water to produce enough cotton to make a t-shirt, more than a person drinks in a year. To get this water means diverting rivers into fields for irrigation. This can be bad.

The hunger for more cotton profit drove the people to divert the prosperous Aral Sea into neighbouring regions to grow cotton. The result, above, means that what was one of the four largest lakes in the world is now a desert.

Our work on water so far
  • Cotton uses an incredible amount of water. Organic Cotton needs no less water. But there are hidden advantages: To make one tonne of nitrogen fertiliser creates seven tonnes of Co2, takes one tonne of oil and one hundred tonnes of water - Organics don't need that. Plus, organic cotton root systems are deeper and have greater water retention. Our cotton is grown in the North of India, where most of the water comes from above in monsoon season. The most impressive work is at the dyehouse, where almost all the water is recirculated.

Water in t-shirt supply chains is an unsolved problem, but organic is the better choice.

Isn't there loads of water, like in the sea?
"Salt water can be made fresh but at the expense of mountains of energy, and Co2. Fresh water is scarce, and nearly 1 billion people in the developing world don't have access to it. "
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Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world, the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects – specifically to feed a cotton industry. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size.

What used to be a prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.

At Rapanui, we only use organic cotton. Whilst it does require water in the field, the inputs like fertiliser in normal cotton are massive. So organic is lower impact.

The dyehouse where our products are made has an awesome closed loop water recirculation plant. It reduces water use by orders of magnitude.

How about the water used in the factories?

For the vast majority of our products, the processing of the dye effluent takes place in a controlled closed-loop purification system that uses treatment ponds, sand filtration and reverse osmosis to convert the wastewater into clean water.


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