1. Our insatiable appetite for cheap jeans is turning inland lakes and seas into desert wastelands: Devastating assault on the fashion industry reveals how the trend for disposable fashion is threatening the lives of millions and turning inland freshwater lakes into deserts because of cotton farming.
2. Chemical Warfare – Globally, 35 million hectares of cotton are under cultivation. To control the numerous pests feeding on the cotton plant farmers have long relied on heavy application of insecticides, which leads to the pollution of surface and groundwater. In developing countries cotton growers use a full half of the pesticides used in agriculture.
3. Recent advancements in technology, including the ability to modify the cotton plant’s genetic material, have made cotton toxic to some of its pest. This reduced but did not eliminate the need for insecticides. Farm workers, particularly where the labor is less mechanized, continue to be exposed to harmful chemicals.
4. Competing weeds are another threat to cotton production; generally tilling practices and herbicides are used to knock back weeds. A large number of farmers have adopted genetically modified cotton seeds that include a gene protecting it from the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup).
5. Synthetic Fertilizers – Conventionally grown cotton requires the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers. Such concentrated application means much of it ends up in waterways, creating one of the worst nutrient pollution problems globally, upending aquatic communities and leading to dead zones starved of oxygen and devoid of aquatic life. In addition, synthetic fertilizers contribute an important quantity of greenhouse gases during their production and use.
6. Heavy Irrigation – In many regions rainfall is insufficient to grow cotton but the deficit can be made up by irrigating the fields with water from nearby rivers or from wells. Wherever it comes from, the water withdrawals can be so massive that they diminish river flows significantly and deplete groundwater. Two thirds of India’s cotton production is irrigated with groundwater.
7. Perhaps the most dramatic overuse of irrigation water is visible in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where the Aral Sea declined in surface area by 85%. Livelihoods, wildlife habitats, and fish populations have been decimated. To make matters worse the now dry salt and pesticide residues are blown away from the former fields and lake bed, increasing the frequency of miscarriages and malformations among the 4 million people who live downwind.
8. Another negative consequence of heavy irrigation is soil salination. When fields are repeatedly flooded with irrigation water, salt becomes concentrated near the surface. Plants can no longer grow on these soils and agriculture has to be abandoned.
9. The Aral Sea in Central Asia – our insatiable appetite for cheap jeans that has turned an inland sea into a desert: Devastating assault on the fashion industry reveals how trend for disposable fashion is threatening the lives of millions and turning inland freshwater lakes into deserts because of cotton farming. Today, the scrubland that was once the Aral Sea in Central Asia is dotted with camels searching out sparse tufts of grass against a flat, sandy horizon. Only the bizarre sight of boats marooned hundreds of miles inland gives any clue to the area’s history. In just four decades, what was once one of the largest inland bodies of water on the globe has shrunk by more than two thirds – an area the size of Ireland – leaving behind a poisonous dust bowl.
10. An example, with Britons buying twice as many clothes as a decade ago – last year we spent £50 billion – there is mounting concern about cheap, disposable fashion sometimes branded ‘look and chuck’. It reveals that, around the globe, millions of gallons of clean water have either been diverted to growing cotton, or have been hopelessly polluted by the toxic chemicals used for dyes and manufacture. The facts are stark: to grow enough cotton to make a single pair of jeans can take 3,400 gallons or 15,500 litres of water.
11. Meanwhile, micro fibers from fleeces and sportswear are now a significant cause of plastic pollution in our rivers and oceans: 700,000 fibers are released in a single domestic wash.