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. The result can be devastating.

The hunger for more cotton profit drove the USSR to divert the once prosperous Aral Sea into its satellite states’ irrigation systems only 20 years ago– the result, above, means that what was one of the four largest lakes in the world is now a desert.

Water and Rapanui in 10 seconds
  • 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, Browse Men's Organic Cotton Clothing or Women's Organic Cotton Clothing for more.

The intense water needs of cotton, organic or not, is an unsolved problem, but organic is the better choice.

Yet there are other fabrics. Bamboo clothing fans point out the fact that bamboo doesn't need watering, fertiliser or pesticides but as with all sustainability, there's another side - where Bamboo requires a lot of chemical processing in the factory.

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, our Organic cotton is grown in a monsoon valley meaning nearly 95% of the water needed to irrigate the cotton comes from natural rainfall. Growing organically, plus introducing new low-input textiles like bamboo viscose means we have a lower water profile than the average t-shirt.

Water stress caused by cotton growing is an unsolved problem. New textiles that follow a circular economy will solve the problem, and are needed fast.

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. Often the water coming out is cleaner than the water going in.

Closed loop water Filtration
  • Waste water -93% reclaimed (the rest is lost to evaporation)
  • Waste products - negligible
  • Damage to local water systems - nil

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