07 March 2018 Photo Aden Ardenrich from Pexels
Is there a pollution solution
To make one cotton T-shirt up to 2 700 litres are used – that is two-and-a-half years of drinking water for one person.

Dr Cindé Greyling, a UFS DiMTEC (Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa) alumni, studied drought mitigation – with a strong focus on communicating important water-saving information. 

Coming out of the closet

“We often point to the mining, agriculture, and energy sectors as water pollution culprits, which they are, but what about closer to home?” Dr Greyling asks. It is good if you take short showers, harvest rainwater, and are conscious about closing taps, but, she explains, there is a big problem hiding in your closet. Textiles. “It is difficult to put an exact number or ranking to it, but the textile industry could easily be in the top 10 water polluters. The cotton plant requires a lot of water and is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. Long before manufacturing starts, water is already at stake.” Not that polyester, or polyester blends are much better – when washed, thousands of microplastic fibers are released that eventually end up in our water sources and the oceans.

To dye for
“Most dyes used for textiles are also heavy water pollutants,” she explains. “And since we’ve developed a taste for cheap, mass-produced clothing, the production sites take strain – putting the community and environment at risk. When you wash these cheaply made garments, the same toxic dye is often visibly released.” The fashion industry is regularly criticised by animal activists for their insidious labour practices. But maybe it is time to help limit their environmental impact too.  

One in, one out
“We must unlearn our fashion gluttony. There is no pride in having a wardrobe full of clothes that you do not wear. Buy less, buy better quality, and care for your clothes so that you don’t have to replace them that often. To make one cotton T-shirt, up to 2 700 liters is used – that is 2 ½ years of drinking water for one person. My household applies a ‘one-in-one-out’ rule. You can only buy, for example, a new pair of denim jeans, if you take an old pair out that you either donate or repurpose. It works very well – you think twice about purchasing.”

A helping hand
Dr Greyling thinks that beside individual efforts, the UFS community can contribute a lot toward reducing textile water pollution, such as opening a pre-used clothing bank on campus. “Students are very influential and can easily create a ‘cool to re-use’ fashion trend, even if just locally. Also, research students can further explore and develop textile alternatives like bamboo, hemp, or a more water-friendly synthetic.” 

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