Your Blue Jeans Are Killing the Planet

Are the blue jeans we wear killing our planet's rivers?

This is a question we are forced to ask ourselves when watching the 90-minute Canadian documentary, RiverBlue, narrated by Canadian actor, director and water activist Jason Priestley. 

As speakers in the film tell us: “We are committing ‘hydro-cide.’ We are deliberately murdering our rivers. . . Every single piece of clothing you buy comes with a cost.” One major fashion brand alone uses 28 trillion gallons of freshwater a year.  

This powerful documentary – made by David McIlvride, Lisa Mazzotta and Roger Williams – has its Toronto premiere at the 2017 Water Docs Film FestivalPresented in conjunction with the University of Toronto Student Chapter of the Ontario Water Works Association, this free screening plays in the OISE auditorium, on March 29,  at 6 p.m., followed by a panel discussion with representatives from the film and fashion industry.

In the documentary, internationally renowned river advocate Mark Angelo journeys through some of the world's most pristine waterways to some of its most polluted, in an unprecedented global adventure that reveals the dark side of the fashion industry. Through harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste, our cloth making is destroying rivers.

Recalling the genesis of the film, writer and co-director David McIlvride says: “I started to do a little bit of research, and in the course of that research, I came across an image of a river in China, called the Pearl River, and it was a shot from space and you could see the river had turned blue. It was an indigo blue and it was all from the pollution of making blue jeans. I thought to myself, ah, blue jeans, this is a singular focus that maybe we can hinge this environmental river project about.”

It was a challenge shooting the movie around the world in locations such as China, India, Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. In a promotional video, the filmmakers recall that the toxic effects of pollution could be devastating to people.

“The things that were shocking to me: we would see pictures before we would go off to a location, but the pictures really didn’t give you the physicality you got when you actually arrived on scene. It was that whole tactile sense of getting into these locations, stepping out of the vehicles and just the smells, the sights and smells, were just overwhelming,” recounts McIlvride.

But on a positive note, fashion manufacturers are beginning to look at using processes that put fewer harmful chemicals in the water. And as more people are becoming aware of the issue, the cry for ethical behaviour on the part of the fashion industry is growing. As co-executive producer Mark Angelo says: "It's not that people can no longer wear jeans but it does highlight the fact that jeans have to be made in a different way."