Dirty Denim: A Detriment to the Planet

Table of Content

  • Water Consumption
  • Chemical Use
  • Energy Consumption
  • Waste Generation
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Not many wardrobe staples can rival denim's versatility and inherently cool look. Despite the hundreds of passing fads, old-time-classic jeans are the 150-year-old utilitarian fabric of choice that continues to redefine casual fashion. From classic blue jeans to trendy denim jackets, denim is a fashion essential. However, denim production has a significant environmental impact that is often overlooked. In fact, every pair of denim jeans contributes 33.4 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere, consumes nearly 1,000 gallons of water, and occupies twelve square meters of land to support its production.

In this blog post, we will explore the environmental impact of denim production, including water consumption, chemical use, energy consumption, and waste generation. We will also discuss sustainable solutions for denim production.

Water Consumption

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Denim is made from cotton. At first glance, you may think regular cotton is sustainable as it is typically a natural fiber. But this isn't the case. Cotton cultivation is a water-intensive crop. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it takes around 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton, which is enough to make a single pair of jeans. The amount of water used in cotton cultivation varies depending on the region, climate, and irrigation method. Now, consider that 27 million tons of cotton are produced globally in a year, with more than US$2 billion's worth of chemicals sprayed on the world's cotton crop yearly.

Cotton cultivation has resulted in water diversion and pollution, causing significant harm to major ecosystems like the Aral Sea in Central Asia, the Indus Delta in Pakistan, and the Murray Darling River in Australia. Shockingly, the Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk to just ten percent of its former volume, primarily due to irrigation for cotton farming. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world at 26,000 square miles, but now it is nearly dry. As the sea dried up, fish populations dwindled, and the once robust fishing hub was gone, leaving the local people.

Water consumption also occurs during the dyeing and finishing process of denim production. Large amounts of water are used to wash and rinse the fabric to achieve the desired color and texture of denim. The dyeing process requires high temperatures and pressure, increasing water consumption. In addition, chemicals are added to the water during the dyeing and finishing process, which can contaminate water sources and harm local communities.

The environmental impact of water consumption in denim production goes beyond just water waste. Water is scarce in many countries where cotton is grown and denim is produced. In some cases, local communities do not have access to clean drinking water, and the water used in denim production further exacerbates the issue.

Chemical Use

The production of denim also involves the use of various chemicals. These chemicals are used to achieve the desired color and texture of the fabric and make the material more durable. Some chemicals used in denim production include chlorine, potassium permanganate, and sodium hydroxide.

The environmental impact of chemical use in denim production can be severe. Chemicals used in denim production can contaminate water sources, harm wildlife, and degrade soil quality. In addition, workers exposed to these chemicals are at risk of health problems such as respiratory issues, skin irritation, and cancer.

Fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution, thanks partly to weak regulation and enforcement in producer countries like Bangladesh, where wastewater is commonly dumped directly into rivers and streams. Rivers and canals that run through Dhaka have turned a "pitch black color" due to the sludge and sewage produced by textile dyeing and processing factories. "People don't have any other option, so they have to ... drink (from) it. They are hopeless; they don't have money to install a filter or drill (for) deep water," Ridwanul Haque, chief executive of the Dhaka-based NGO Agroho, told CNN.

Energy Consumption

The energy consumption in denim production significantly contributes to the industry's environmental impact. The International Energy Agency reports that the textile industry's carbon emissions account for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this energy comes from non-renewable sources, such as coal and oil, which have significant environmental consequences. This energy is used to power the machinery used in cotton cultivation, dyeing and finishing, and transportation.

The environmental impacts of energy consumption in denim production are significant. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, contributing to climate change. Climate change has a wide range of impacts, including more frequent and severe weather events, sea level rise, and harm to biodiversity.

Waste Generation

Finally, denim production generates a significant amount of waste. Waste is generated during various stages of denim production, including cotton cultivation, fabric production, and garment production. Some waste generated includes cotton stalks, fabric scraps, and discarded garments.

The environmental impact of waste generation in denim production is significant. Waste can pollute water sources, harm wildlife, and contribute to climate change. In addition, waste can pose health risks to workers exposed to it. We unraveled how most recycled and donated denim ends up in landfills here.

Choose Sustainable Denim

In conclusion, the environmental impact of denim production is significant, and it's essential to understand the consequences of this popular fabric. Denim production requires a lot of water, chemicals, and energy and generates considerable waste. However, sustainable solutions can reduce the impact of denim production, including organic cotton cultivation, alternative dyes and finishes, energy-efficient production methods, and recycling and upcycling.

As consumers, we can also play a role in reducing the environmental impact of denim production. By choosing sustainable denim options and supporting companies that use sustainable production methods, we can help to reduce the impact of denim production on the environment. Additionally, by recycling and upcycling old denim, we can help to reduce waste and prolong the life of our clothing. Together, we can make a difference and help to create a more sustainable future for denim production.

To upcycle your preloved denim with Proper, order a Take Back Bag and let us turn it into something special.

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