How much water is in your shirt?

A new report that examines trends in global production and consumption patterns finds resource depletion is accelerating.

They say you get what you pay for — but in today’s global marketplace, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to know exactly what it is you are actually paying for even when buying something as simple as a t-shirt.

Washington D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute seeks to fill that gap in consumer knowledge with Vital Signs, Volume 22: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, a new report that examines trends in global production and consumption patterns along with the proper context for understanding the impacts these trends are having on our health and the planet.

“Consumers often do not know the full footprint of the products they are buying, such as the embedded water in a t-shirt or steak, the pesticide exposure of cotton farmers, or the local devastation caused by timber companies cutting down forests to produce paper,” Michael Renner, Vital Signs project director for Worldwatch, said in a statement.

For instance, did you know that there are now a billion automobiles on the road worldwide — with all of the carbon emissions that entails?

Consumers often do not know the full footprint of the products they are buying, such as the embedded water in a t-shirt or steak, the pesticide exposure of cotton farmers, or the local devastation caused by timber companies cutting down forests to produce paper.

Michael Renner, Vital Signs project director for Worldwatch

Also, ever wonder just how much plastic we actually make?

We produced nearly 300 million tons of plastic in 2013 alone, but recycling rates are still very low.

The majority of plastic products, according to the report, end up in landfills or the ocean, where they pollute ecosystems and ensnare wildlife. In the US, less than 10 per cent of plastic was recycled in 2012, with the rest constituting some 13 per cent of solid waste disposed of by Americans that year.

And lest you assume that a rising economic tide is lifting all boats, consider that we’re producing twice as much coffee globally as we were in the 1960s, yet despite the increased demand some 25 million coffee growers’ livelihoods are threatened by extremely volatile coffee prices.

The amount of meat produced worldwide has quadrupled over the last 50 years, reaching 308 million tons in 2013. According to the report, this has had “considerable environmental and health costs due to its large-scale draw on water, feedgrains, antibiotics, and grazing land.”

Even though global hunger is decreasing, as the report notes, 1 in 9 people still go hungry.

So how much water is in your shirt? A t-shirt takes 2,720 liters of water to make, per the report. Your jeans? 10,850 liters.

Renner writes that “untrammeled consumerism” is responsible for many of the health and environmental challenges facing the world’s population today, including air and water pollution and climate change. “As various articles in this edition of Vital Signs show, consumption choices matter greatly.”

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