How jeans affect the environment
How jeans affect the environment

Every day more and more becomes known about the threats that humanity brings to nature. We are concerned about industrial emissions, ozone-depleting aerosols, animal-deadly plastics, toxic batteries, and more. Now you can safely add jeans to this list, which, as it turned out, make a significant contribution to the destruction of the environment.


The most expensive, most powerful and most toxic car in the world is the Bugatti Chiron. The 8-liter engine of this monster, with a power of 1500 hp. for every kilometer traveled, it produces 516 grams of CO2. When you buy jeans, you are damaging the environment as if you were driving 26 km in this supercar.

13 kg of carbon dioxide is released into the air during the manufacture of just one classic jeans. It takes a large tree 4.5 months to get rid of that much CO2. Now imagine that humanity produces 4 billion pairs of jeans every year, which is accompanied by the release of 52 million tons of CO2.


But that's not all. It is known that for the production of just one unit of such products, the manufacturer spends up to 10 kg of chemical dyes and 8 thousand liters of water. In this regard, many responsible clothing buyers have already abandoned denim clothing and prefer things made from environmentally friendly materials.

The most the big problem of jeans is cottonfrom which their fabric is made. This crop consumes huge amounts of water and also occupies an impressive area. According to the Cotton Outlook, 150 million hectares are occupied by cotton on the planet.

In addition, the culture grows in hot, arid climates, where there are constant problems with water. To grow 1 kg of cotton, 22.5 thousand liters of water are consumed in India. The Aral Sea in Central Asia is a typical example of what cotton cultivation can lead to when irrigated without thought.


But research shows that water rates for growing cotton are excessive. It is quite possible to get by with 10 thousand liters, and sometimes 8, as is done in the USA. Avoiding pesticides makes used water suitable for further use.

To achieve all this, you do not need high-tech technologies - it is enough to use irrigation canals with a concrete rather than sandy or soil bottom, efficient pumps and special systems with hoses that supply water directly to the plants.

The use of drip irrigation reduces water consumption even more, but requires a significant investment in equipment. A piping system created in a cotton field will allow water to be supplied directly to the bushes, minimizing waste.


The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an international non-profit organization, was formed in 2005 to help farmers grow cotton with minimal harm to the environment. It was supported by such giants of the light industry as Adidas, Gap, H&M, Ikea.

The main goal of BCI is to help farmers interested in growing organic cotton. The organization helps to search for investors, as well as manufacturers interested in obtaining environmentally friendly raw materials.

The Better Cotton Initiative has already started yielding tangible results. Thanks to the work of the organization, it was possible to reduce the consumption of water by cotton plantations in Tajikistan (3%) and Pakistan (20%). China and Turkey are also actively fighting to reduce environmental damage.

In addition to saving water resources, there is another positive point - all cotton companies cooperating with BCI completely abandon pesticides and other chemical compounds that are harmful to nature.

Second global problemassociated with the production of jeans is dyes… Oddly enough it sounds, but for 150 years the technology of dyeing fabrics has not changed and still requires colossal volumes of water and a large amount of toxic reagents and dyes.

When preparing a fabric for dyeing, it is bleached using caustic compounds and treated with a special compound that reduces the friction of the threads when moving along the conveyor. The breakage of even one thread in this case becomes a real disaster - a roll, in which about 700 meters of fabric, turns out to be unusable.

After that, dyeing takes place in 12 baths with indigo, and after each stage of dyeing, the fabric is thoroughly dried. To fix the paint, a hydrosulfate solution is used - it reduces the size of paint particles and ensures their better penetration into the fibers.

The denim dyeing line is 52 meters long and dyes 19 running meters of material per minute. This consumes 95 thousand liters of water! Companies such as Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee use recycled water, purifying it with special units. But not all manufacturers can afford such equipment.

Firms that produce jeans of the cheapest segment, as well as numerous workshops for the production of counterfeit products, simply pour blue water with indigo into the nearest river without caring about the consequences. It is also impossible to say that water from factories of well-known brands becomes completely safe - it remains technical, unsuitable for drinking and watering plants.

In the world about 783 million people suffer from a lack of drinking water, so the approach of companies producing jeans cannot be called rational. In this regard, an original way out of the situation was found, which was called "dry painting".

The Spanish company Tejidos Royo from Alicante, Valencia became the creator of the new, safe painting technology. The family business, started back in 1903, began to suffer from rising costs at the beginning of the 21st century. To get out of this, Tejidos Royo has partnered with denim dyeing equipment manufacturer Gaston Industries to develop a unique dyeing line that is only 8 meters long at a water flow rate of 36 liters per minute. At the same time, the technique allows dyeing not 19, but as much as 27 meters of denim during this time.

"Dry coloring" differs from the usual one in that it is produced in an atmosphere saturated with nitrogen, previously knocked down into a foam with indigo dye. The foamed dye perfectly penetrates the fibers, and the absence of oxygen in the spray booth ensures dyeing in one cycle.

The technology excludes the use of other chemical reagents, including hazardous hydrosulfate. This not only helps protect the environment, but also saves manufacturers huge amounts of money. The Spanish find was so successful that it was adopted by the Wrangler company, which is actively involved in environmental programs.

The third problemdenim industry can be called waste… In the United States alone, at least 13 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills annually, of which a considerable part are denim items. This does not include the "contribution" of the textile and clothing industry, which also produces a lot of trimmings.

Research has shown that up to 95% of cotton and waste can be recycled, reducing the environmental impact of denim production. Today, recycled clothing is not used very rationally, turning into cheap products such as rags and various soft fillers.

But gradually there are ways of more effective use of this raw material.A cotton T-shirt can be recycled and turned into a hoodie, and this wardrobe item, at the end of its useful life, becomes a bedspread. Why is that?

The fact is that each processing makes the threads shorter and coarser, and therefore they have to be used for the production of denser products. So far, only two processing cycles are possible, but work is underway to improve the technology.

Washing - it fourth factor impact on the environment. To make jeans look fashionable and stylish, they are “aged” after production. This technology was developed by Jack Spencer for the Lee brand, but almost all companies now use it.

To lighten jeans, they are washed in special formulations based on water, to which chlorine, cellulose enzymes and several other chemical compounds are added. Also added to water and pumice, creating a scuff effect. Of course, this process consumes huge volumes of water, which is practically impossible to purify with high quality.

It should also be remembered that such washing is harmful to the health of factory workers who suffer from serious occupational diseases. In some underdeveloped countries, such washing in reagents is carried out without protective equipment, and sometimes simply with bare hands.

In 2017, several companies at once found an effective innovative way to wash denim without chemical compounds. Instead of chlorine and pumice, they began to use a laser, which is not only safe for nature and employees, but also significantly improves the quality of processing. A half-hour laborious wash now takes only 90 seconds, while avoiding accidental damage to fabric fibers and uneven color and texture changes.

Ozone is used to lighten fabrics by feeding it into washing drums instead of corrosive chemicals. It dissolves indigo very well and leaves the water relatively clear. The use of ozone for washing is not new. In dry cleaners, it has long been used to remove particularly stubborn dirt. Of course, in the case of denim bleaching, the ozone concentration is much higher.

Such washing allows to save 50-60% of water, therefore it was adopted by the companies Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler, Uniqlo, Guess, who are fighting for the rational use of water resources. Recently, more modest manufacturers from India, Turkey and Pakistan have begun to follow the lead of the fashion giants.

How can we help preserve nature from denim disaster? Do we really have to give up jeans, denim jackets and shorts that are dear to our hearts? Of course not! To make our modest but important contribution to the protection of our planet, it is enough to abandon the products of unknown manufacturers in the lower price segment.

Almost all companies producing mid-budget and high-end products have long since switched to production with a minimum impact on the environment. Technologies that help protect nature are still expensive, although scientists are struggling to make them cheaper. By purchasing quality products from well-known brands, we not only reduce the impact on the environment, but also contribute to the financing of new, advanced technologies. Therefore, we can say that being fashionable today also means being conscious, and this is very important.

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