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The Future of Water and Clothing

01/04/2016 14:24 | Updated 01 April 2016

Last week we celebrated World Water Day. How concerned should we be with water scarcity and safety, especially when we consider the implications for our mental health? Can we better engage with climate change by understanding the impact of what we wear on water?

On World Water Day it hit me how very closely related we are to the impacts of water scarcity and safety caused by climate change. As humans our bodies are made of 60% water, our brain is 70% water, and the surface of the planet we live on is almost three quarters water. We not only rely on water for our physical health, but also for our mental health. I recently finished reading Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols. Wallace shares his research into how we can use water as an influence on the human mind to become happier. The touch, sight and sound of water triggers us to relax. We naturally enjoy being near or in water, which you can see demonstrated by the amount of Facebook photos of people escaping to a seaside location.

This dependence on water makes me concerned about the impact of climate change on our mental wellbeing. Whilst increasingly frequent events of drought and flooding occur, even close to home in England, we experience the devastating implications. For those parts of our world facing increasingly limited access to water, this will not only challenge our physical dependencies on the resource, but our mental dependencies for relaxation and happiness. However I wonder how this natural dependence and relation to water can be utilised to help us engage with the impacts of climate change. Climate change has been heavily branded around carbon, but initiatives such as the carbon footprint lack the intended wide public engagement. Could water, unlike carbon, be an easier way for us to relate to climate change? We all encounter water in our daily lives, and have a 'clear' understanding of its necessity to human life. Further, we may be made of water, but we also wear water.

It takes 2720 litres of water to make a T-Shirt, that's the same amount of water we drink over a three year period. Last year I visited India, a country with the world's largest population without access to clean water, as reported by the charity Water Aid. India exports a lot of it's water when it produces materials such as cotton. Producing 1kg of cotton in India consumes on average 22,500 litres of water. This water often can't be reused as it has either evaporated or is too contaminated.

The majority of the water used to wear our clothing is actually consumed after we've bought the clothing, when we wash it. Between 75-80% of our clothing's lifecycle impact comes from washing and drying.

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So what can we do to influence the future of water through what we wear? The issues around water in the fashion industry stem from contamination and the quantity used. Although producing organic cotton crops still uses a large amount of water, the water isn't contaminated as a result, meaning it can be re-used. Choosing to buy clothing made of organic cotton is one potential decision we can make, once such clothing becomes more readily available and well labelled. We also have a huge influence on water and climate change through considering how we care for our clothing. Choosing to wash your clothing less frequently doesn't mean having to avoid social situations. It could mean letting your clothes air before deciding if they need to go in the washing machine, for example. It might also mean not waiting for a big load of washing to gather and instead washing items individually by hand as needed. These aren't new ways of thinking, in fact they're really old, but they need some adapting to our 'modern' lifestyle.

I think there lies a huge opportunity to engage a wider population with climate action through a better understanding of our impact on water through the sustainability of what we're wearing. What do you think, has knowing a little more about wearing and impacting water made you feel more influential in the fight against climate change?

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