Water Footprint: Cotton Industry in South Africa


Major retailers in South Africa have committed to increasing locally-made clothing lines in their stores from around 50% to 65% by 2030, but where will the water come from?


Only a few appreciate the cost of water like commercial facilities and industrial manufacturers and many sell consumer products that require water as part of the larger infrastructure assembly. Each step has a direct water footprint and an indirect water footprint.


Local cotton production began in the Western Cape as early as 1690 and is a prominent crop that is now grown in the provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West. Although cotton flourishes in warm, humid weather, close to 50% of South Africa’s cotton is planted in very dry areas.


In total, the water footprint of cotton is divided in approximately 42% groundwater, 39% rainwater, 19% grey water. It consumes approximately 30 m3 per ton for bleaching, 140 m3 per ton for dying and 190 m3 per ton for printing. For example, a pair of jeans will require cotton to be grown, ginning and spinning of fiber, weaving, sewing and wet processing of the fabric to ultimately have the finished product - bringing the average water footprint of printed cotton like a pair of jeans weighing 1 kilogram to 11m3 per kilogram.


The cotton-textile industry consumes considerable amounts of water during the manufacturing process, creating high volumes of wastewater that need efficient high-quality treatment. The organic-load of wastewater produced in cotton-textile remains a major environmental issue. Textile and ready-made garment production is one of the most water-intensive industries in the world.


MEB has over a decade of experience in water management, optimization and wastewater improvement from a regulatory and production perspective. We focus our efforts on developing an understanding of the relation between water, production value chains and water footprint to effectively apply our water treatment solutions.


Contact us to achieve your sustainability goals and take the vital step from concept to practice.

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