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My Jeans Are Very Thirsty!

2010 June 14

I like fashion, style, clothes and shopping. These are not environmentally-friendly inclinations, so I’ve made a concerted effort to shop for “new” vintage clothes and to donate my “tired” items to charities so they can live on. Plus, I only buy a new item of clothing once every few months! Good enough, right?

Wrong! The April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine is all about water; how much we use and how little we have. Imagine my surprise when I opened the fold-out map on hidden uses of water, and discovered that producing one pair – one single pair – of jeans requires 2,900 gallons of water. That’s roughly a month’s total use of water for an average American. A t-shirt uses 766 gallons, an entire week’s worth. Imagine how many years and years worth of fresh, clean water are sitting in our closets! Meanwhile, at least 36 states are anticipating some type of water shortage by 2013.

Further investigation reveals that 5% of our landfills are comprised of clothing, which translates to about 10 pounds of tossed out textiles per American. I once climbed up a landfill and was horrified to realize that under my feet were cereal boxes, sneakers, books, pens, watches, toys, jeans, and t-shirts – not the icky sludge you imagine when hearing the word ‘landfill’.

We never get back the rivers of water we use to make our clothes. Which makes it that much more important to keep them out of our landfills for all of their useful lives.

Here are some suggestions to be a more sustainable fashionista:

  • Freshen an old item “Project Runway” style – make it shorter, sew fun things to it – view it as a new piece of clothing
  • If you are ready to get rid of an item, try donating it. Check with your local charities, along with many of the more well-know national charities. In fact, some manufacturers are becoming increasingly responsible for the lives of their products and take back some of their clothing for recycling.
  • Donate old sheets, blankets and towels to an animal shelter, to line a dog’s cage or make a cat more comfortable
  • Host a clothing exchange with your friends – free vintage items!
  • Stow away great items. You’ll be amazed ten years later when they are back in style.

What are your tips to be a fashion-friendly environmentalist?

About the author: Deb Berlin works in the EPA Office of Public Affairs on strategic communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 14, 2010

    Good ideas, always looking for ways to recycle!

  2. Ben permalink
    June 14, 2010

    “We never get back the rivers of water we use to make our clothes. Which makes it that much more important to keep them out of our landfills for all of their useful lives.”

    Really? How amazingly ignorant and alarmist. I’m not saying you’d want to sit at the end of the production line with some lemons and sugar getting ready to make lemonade with whatever’s coming out of the pipe (and that should certainly be addressed), but the water doesn’t just “disappear” never to be heard from again.

  3. armansyahardanis permalink
    June 14, 2010

    Oh My God…..!!! Really, are that things thirsty ???
    Here, more than US, because beside your explained, we also wasting the water for ritual activities. Need the “Queen” of this planet who caring environmental that doesn’t wasteful.

  4. Joan permalink
    June 14, 2010

    Deb, thanks for this eye-opening post!
    The amount of water needed to produce a pair of jeans is absolutely jaw-dropping. Once we become aware of how our lifestyle affects the environment, it is up to us to make changes in our consumer habits.
    Thanks again,

  5. Mars1me permalink
    June 14, 2010

    If this continues, we may be seeing wars being fought for the control of portable water in I hope the distance future. However, there are countries where people are existing on less than a gallon of water a day because of drought conditions. Climate change?

  6. Tammie permalink
    June 14, 2010

    My great-grandmother, and grandmother made all of their grandchildren ( that being myself, siblings, and all of our cousins) quilts when we graduated from high school all out of material we wore growing up, as well as clothes our grandparents wore. It is fun to pick out the squares from Grandma’s favorite dress she wore to special functions,etc.., and our clothes that had a special story of its’ own all in the same marvelous quilt. The quilts kept us warm in our college dorms, as well as even now!

  7. David Mc permalink
    June 14, 2010

    “wasting water for ritual activities”

    You’ve piqued my interest armansyahardanis.

  8. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    June 14, 2010

    This proves we need to develop new ways of manufacturing that will use less water, pollute far less, and will leave much more drinking water for communities both here and in developing contries to use. We talk alot about the carbon footprint that various industries and activities have. We also need to talk about the water footprint of various industries and activities, and just as ways are being found to reduce the carbon footprint. ways must be found to reduce the water footprint. The water footprint for a product should include more than its manufacturing, it should include the supply chain for the product and the steps in the product’s lifecycle. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  9. Wordy permalink
    June 15, 2010

    An eye opener! I never thought producing jeans could be that worse. Oh My!

  10. John permalink
    June 16, 2010

    Great article. For more ideas on how you can do your bit visit

    Elpis is an online community focussed on responsible living and sustainable growth. The tagline (Think. Connect. Act) says it all. Get the unbiased facts on environment, sustainability, climate change, biodiversity, clean energy, green living and so on from the experts. Network and collaborate with friends, track thought leaders, and make new links with people who share a common interest in a zero carbon, responsible lifestyle. Measure your carbon footprint using Elpis’ unique global carbon calculator. Reduce your footprint in a pragmatic manner by creating a personalized reduction plan. Become carbon neutral by buying carbon offsets from a carefully selected portfolio including biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and methane capture projects. Use the Elpis Collaboration Platform to set up petitions, volunteering projects or fundraising initiatives for your favourite causes. Buy eco friendly products and services such as solar panels, home energy solutions, energy efficient cars & appliances, green electricity, eco fashion from the Elpis online shop. Create and implement community development plans to tackle issues such as energy, livelihoods, food, resources, health, education etc. And so on. Elpis is truly about social networking with a purpose.

  11. Brenda-EPA permalink
    June 16, 2010

    Deb: LOL. That is one great post! I am real fashionista and with three daughters, you can imagine how much shopping we do! I do the regular hand me downs exchange with other co-workers and friends. I also go to the local Salvation Army Store for books and sometimes find quite a few fashion items. I hosted a swap party in late March with co-workers and friends and it was a HUGE success. Books, jewelry, handbags, clothing, DVD….just to name a few. In fact a few people have asked me when I am hosting the next one.

    I also read the National Geographic and was as appalled as you to learn how much water is needed for jeans. Which brings me to the fact that I have taught my kids to take very good care of their clothes to make them last thus they don’t end unusable and filling much needed space in a landfill.

  12. David Lynch permalink
    June 20, 2010

    Is that what they call the wet look.Is it all worth it with jeans they come out faded, ripped and torn, holes in them but everyone still wants a pair of jeans!

  13. David Lynch permalink
    June 20, 2010

    Its unbelievable the water wastage when you start looking into all areas. Oh well you have jeans sold that are torn, you can buy jeans that are faded and now you can buy jeans with the wet look about them. Wheres it all going to end.

  14. Judy permalink
    June 21, 2010

    Great info, Deb! Really learned a lot. Couldn’t have imagined how much water is lost just to make a pair of jeans. Frightening what we do to our environment. Thanks so much!

  15. Liam permalink
    July 8, 2010

    It’s the last thing anyone thinks about when buying a pair of jeans from a store, but it is a major problem. I was reading an article on denim, the other day and a few larger jeans brands are trying to do something about the problem.

  16. kjbake2 permalink
    September 12, 2010

    I am a fashionista as well and this article has really opened my eyes. This is an issue that everyone can help to solve… just by recycling and consuming less. I am currently looking for a topic on which to write a persuasive paper for a natural resource conservation class that is supposed to be directed towards college students. So far I have been unable to find many issues that the average college student can even attempt to solve, but this one is different. I would like to write my paper on this topic, so if anyone has any other links or information pertaining to this, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  17. Alternative Energy Freak permalink
    October 13, 2010

    It’s probably not unreasonable to say that we’re all much more environmentally conscious nowadays. It doesn’t seem likely that we are about to turn into a nation of eco-warriors overnight, but most people are quite prepared to make a little effort to be greener. It is a lot of relatively small changes by a large number of people that tends to make the difference. The good news is that you can be more environmentally friendly whilst saving both time and money. Many thanks :-)

  18. JJ_John on Jeans permalink
    October 24, 2010

    I never put to my senses that wearing jeans greatly affect the’s just sad that most of the people now are so fashion forward and always on trend making manufacturers do their job… every fabric made perhaps cost a lot of sad.. :(

  19. Jeremiah O'Neil permalink
    July 12, 2011

    First of all, I always donate and shop for clothing at thrift shops for years. I think it not only makes financial sense but as you point out in your statistics — it really makes a environmental difference.

    Thanks for info.


  20. kate permalink
    April 21, 2014

    I would like to write my paper on this topic, so if anyone has any other links or information pertaining to Jeans/denim, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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