Water is not an unlimited resource. As the demand for water grows, the availability of water decreases. The main contributing factors to the dwindling water supply are population growth, climate change, and the misuse and waste of resources. Despite the large volume of actual water present on Earth, only a small fraction of that water is usable freshwater, the remainder is mainly salt water found in oceans.
This small fraction of freshwater available for the support of human life and agriculture is only 2.5% of all water found on Earth. Out of this 2.5%, 30.1% is groundwater which is the water stored deep beneath the Earth's surface in underground aquifers. Another 68.6% of all freshwater is stored in glaciers and polar caps. That leaves only 1.3% of the total freshwater or .032% of the total Earth water in surface water sources such as lakes, rivers, and streams and it is surface water humans and other species rely upon for their biological needs.21 Our goal at ALLREVERSIBLE® is to raise awareness about the scarcity of water on a global level.
Water scarcity can be defined as insufficient freshwater resources to meet the human and environmental demands of a given area. Water scarcity is inextricably linked to human rights, and sufficient access to safe drinking water is a priority for global development. However, given the challenges of population growth, profligate use, and changes in weather patterns due to global warming, many countries and major cities worldwide, both wealthy and poor, faced increasing water scarcity in the 21st century. Chronic water scarcity can culminate in forced migration and domestic or regional conflicts, especially in geopolitically fragile areas.13 Water scarcity is divided into either physical scarcity, or economic scarcity as a result of poor management, and involves water stress, water shortage or deficits, and water crises.20
- Water stress is the difficulty of obtaining sources of freshwater for use during a period of time and may result in further depletion and deterioration of available water resources.20
- Water shortages may be caused by climate change, such as altered weather patterns including droughts or floods, increased pollution, and increased human demand and overuse of water.20
- A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand.20 “The Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum ranked water crises as the third most important global risk in terms of impact on humanity, following weapons of mass destruction and extreme weather events"13,22
The rate of global population growth is not projected to decrease in the near future, and has been one of the major factors contributing towards water scarcity. The projections below are based on a scenario where water supply and demand correlates with current climate change and population growth trends, respectively.
2025: The shifting patterns of water availability, along with falling groundwater levels, will further limit access to drinking water and water for irrigation, presenting new socio-economic and political implications. Over 2 billion people already lack access to safe drinking water at home, and by 2025 over half of the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas. These numbers will increase significantly if climate change and population growth follow or exceed predicted trajectories.3
2030: According to the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security, by 2030 humanity’s annual global water requirements will exceed current sustainable water supplies by 40%. The global middle class will surge from 1.8 to 4.9 billion by 2030, which will result in a significant increase in freshwater consumption.4,12
2035: The world’s energy consumption will increase by 35%, which in turn will increase water use by 85% according to the International Energy Agency.6,7
2040: There will not be enough water in the world to satisfy the global population and maintain the current energy and power solutions if we continue using and misusing our resources as we are today.1 Figure 1 below shows the projected water stress levels worldwide in the year 2040.
Figure 1: Country-Level Water Stress in 2040 under the Business-As-Usual Scenario.9
2050: Water demand is projected to grow by 55% by 2050.5,11 Over the period 2017–2050, the world population is expected to increase from 7.7 billion to between 9.4 and 10.2 billion. 3.6 billion people worldwide are already living in potential water-scarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050.23
Consumer Care and Careless Consumer
Both population growth and the expansion of the middle class will lead to an increase in the spending on clothing worldwide. Fast fashion, or the expedited and increased production of clothing, has also been a trend that runs opposite to sustainability in the industry. Clothing purchased made by the average consumer has increased 60% between the years 2000 and 2014, and the time that the clothes are kept are about half as long.14,15
According to a study conducted by Levi’s, consumer care was found to be one of the greatest water impacts in the life cycle of a product. On average, the United States was found to use more water and wash their clothing more frequently compared to other nations. The US averaged 2.3 wears between washes, while the United Kingdom and France averaged 2.5 wears, and China 3.9 wears.16
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, washing clothing can have a significant environmental impact when not done efficiently. The average top-loading residential washing machine uses about 41 gallons of water or more per load.19 When multiplied by 300 annual loads done by an average American family, the result is 12,300 gallons of water used per year for laundry.8,18
Frequent disposal of clothing adds another element of impact on the environment. Within the fashion industry, more than half of all clothing produced annually are burned or buried within one year.17 According to the EPA, in the United States, the average person disposes of 81 pounds of textiles each year, this number adds up to 12.83 million tons of textile waste annually. This sum contributes to 8% of all municipal solid waste generated within the US.2,14
At the consumer and end user level the following best practices can be implemented in order to help conserve water and make a difference:
Front-Load Washing Machines - Use a horizontal-axis or front-loading washing machine, which uses 15-30 gallons per load instead of a top-loading machine which can use up to 45 gallons. The design of a front-loading machine is more efficient as gravity helps in the cycling process. Studies have also shown that this process is gentler on fabric, requires less laundry detergent, and saves on the energy used to heat water.18
Energy Star Machines - Founded in 1992, Energy Star has been the leading program that promotes energy efficiency. Washing machines certified by Energy Star use 33% less water and 25% less energy than traditional models.10
Wash Full Loads - Avoid short loads, and wash and dry full loads when possible. If a full load is not possible, adjust water settings to accommodate a smaller load.
Wash Less - According to Levi’s, washing every 10 times a product is worn instead of every 2 times reduces energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80%.16
Manual Methods - Spot clean, wash by hand, line and hang dry when possible.
Avoid Disposal - Before you discard your clothing, first consider donating them, or if they are damaged, repair them by sewing them or adding a patch over the damage.
Reversible Pledge - Finally, take the Reversible Pledge!
The goal of this content was to raise awareness about water scarcity and share solutions to help reverse the trend of water waste at the consumer level. If you have made it this far in the read, we applaud you and would like to introduce our reversible pledge:
“I will wear my clothing, reverse my clothing, and wear my clothing again. I will conserve water, contribute to a sustainable future, and inspire others to do the same.”
“If governments, nonprofits, development banks, academic researchers, industry, and policymakers can come together, we may be able to turn our freshwater challenges into a net positive. By opening venues for discussing water policy, by sharing data, by developing new physical—and social—infrastructure, we can create a new worldwide water diplomacy that treats this universal, vitally needed resource as an inspiration for cooperation rather than conflict." 3
1. Aarhus University. "Worldwide water shortage by 2040." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140729093112.htm.
2. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet. Epa.gov. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2013_advncng_smm_fs.pdf. Published 2015.
3. A Map of the Future of Water. Pewtrusts.org. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/trend/archive/spring-2019/a-map-of-the-future-of-water. Published 2019.
4. Director of National Intelligence. Global Water Security. Office of the director of National Intelligence; https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Special%20Report_ICA%20Global%20Water%20Security.pdf. Published 2012.
5. Holloway J. Hot, crowded, and running out of fuel: Earth of 2050 a scary place. Ars Technica. https://arstechnica.com/science/2012/03/hot-crowded-and-running-out-of-fuel-earth-of-2050-a-scary-place/. Published 2012.
6. IEA (2012), World Energy Outlook 2012, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2012
7. Infographic: Thirsty Energy - Energy and Water's Interdependence. World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/01/16/infographic-thirsty-energy-energy-and-water-interdependence. Published 2014.
8. Laundry Practices and Water Conservation. NPS.gov. https://www.nps.gov/articles/laundry.htm#:~:text=Here%20are%20some%20facts%20about,the%20average%20home's%20energy%20use. Published 2020.
9. Luo, T., R. Young, P. Reig. 2015. “Aqueduct Projected Water Stress Country Rankings.” Technical Note. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute. Available online at: https://www.wri.org/publication/aqueduct-projected-water-stress-country-rankings
10. Make Laundry Better. Energystar.gov. https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/clothes_washers. Published 2020.
11. OECD (2012), OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264122246-en.
12. Patrick S. The Coming Global Water Crisis. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/the-coming-global-water-crisis/256896/. Published 2012.
13. Petruzzello M. Water Scarcity. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/water-scarcity. Published 2020.
14. Putt del Pino, S., E. Metzger, D. Drew, and K. Moss. “The Elephant in the Boardroom: Why Unchecked Consumption Is Not an Option in Tomorrow’s Markets.” Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, March 2017. Available online at https://www.wri.org/publication/elephant-in-the-boardroom
15. Remy, N., E. Speelman, and S. Swartz. 2016. “Style That’s Sustainable: A New Fast-Fashion Formula.” McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula
16. The Life Cycle of a Jean. Levistrauss.com. https://www.levistrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Full-LCA-Results-Deck-FINAL.pdf. Published 2015.
17. Use and Reuse - Levi Strauss & Co. Levi Strauss & Co. https://www.levistrauss.com/how-we-do-business/use-and-reuse/. Published 2020.
18. Washing Machines Fact Sheet. Portlandoregon.gov. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/water/article/305154. Published 2020.
19. Water Efficiency Management Guide. EPA.gov. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-10/documents/ws-commercialbuildings-waterscore-residential-kitchen-laundry-guide.pdf. Published 2017.
20. Water Scarcity. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/water_scarcity.htm. Published 2020.
21. Water Scarcity Issues: We're running out of water. FEW Resources.org. https://www.fewresources.org/water-scarcity-issues-were-running-out-of-water.html#. Published 2020.
22. World Economic Forum. The Global Risks Report 2017 12Th Edition. Geneva: World Economic Forum; 2020. https://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2017/.
23. WWAP (United Nations World Water Assessment Programme)/UN-Water. 2018. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2018: Nature-Based Solutions for Water. Paris, UNESCO.