The cotton dyeing industry consumes large quantities of water and toxic chemicals that are often returned to rivers in such a highly polluted state that they make waterways unsafe, said Coan, who speaks regularly about the need to conserve the world’s waterways.
The world produces 30 million tons of cotton fiber annually, and the amount of water needed to dye each year’s supply is the equivalent of the drinking water for every person on the planet for 141 days.
Coan cited a new study of the Chinese textile industry prepared by five environmental groups, which found among other things that the textile industry in China discharged 2.5 million metric tons of sewage in 2010, making it the nation’s third largest water polluter.
That’s bad news in a country where two-thirds of its cities lack an adequate water supply and 300 million rural residents have no access to safe drinking water.
China is hardly alone in suffering such damage, Coan said. In India, three years ago a high court shut down the textile industry in Tirupur, the city known as the nation’s Knitwear Capital, because dyes and other chemical discharges had virtually destroyed the local water supply. Some 100,000 people were put out of work.
“In the long run, all of us are harmed,” Coan said, “because many of the chemicals used in the dyeing process either make the land that absorbs them permanently infertile or they run into rivers, lakes, reservoirs and, ultimately, the oceans, poisoning the waters on which the world’s population depends for life.”
The study, titled "Cleaning Up the Fashion Industry," singles out scores of internationally known brand names in the fashion world -- mostly multinational apparel retailers -- that now purchase textile products from Chinese waterway polluters.
“The textile industry urgently needs to introduce different methods for dyeing cotton,” Coan said. “That’s a serious challenge, in large part because the damage that the dyeing process inflicts on the environment is not widely known. But the ultimate issue here is protecting the world’s waterways and oceans as well as making a life-or-death difference for hundreds of millions of people.”
Based in Mystic, Connecticut, Sea Research Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that operates Mystic Aquarium, Institute for Exploration, Immersion Learning and, in partnership with National Geographic Society, The JASON Project.
Sea Research Foundation
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