Quenching Cotton’s Thirst

by Andrea Newell on Feb 23, 2016

A 2015 U.N. report predicts that the world is on track to face a 40 percent shortage of fresh (including drinkable) water in the next 15 years. If current usage habits don't change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030.

Seventy percent of the earth's fresh water goes toward agriculture production, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Most agriculture produces food for humans or livestock, but cotton, grown largely for the apparel industry, uses 3 percent of the total amount of water consumed by agriculture. In fact, WWF calls cotton “the most widespread, profitable non-food crop in the world.” This cash-crop provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7 percent of all labor in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton.


According to WWF, it takes more than 20,000 liters (5,283 gallons) of water to produce just one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cotton, which roughly equals one T-shirt and a pair of jeans. The cotton apparel lifecycle contains many places, from dirt to shirt to landfill, where we have made strides in reducing water consumption, but there is still work to be done.

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Image credits: Flickr