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The textile industry has
been condemned as being one of the world's worst offenders in terms of
pollution. Traditionally produced fabrics contain residuals of chemicals used
during their Manufacture - chemicals that evaporate into the air we breathe or
are absorbed through our skin. Some of the chemicals are carcinogenic or may
cause harm to children even before birth while others may trigger allergic
reactions in some people. Cotton is the second-most damaging agricultural crop
in the world; 25 percent of all Pesticides used globally are put on cotton
crops. Majority of the cotton is irrigated and the combination of chemical
application (through pesticides and fertilizers) with irrigation is a direct
conduit for toxic chemicals to circulate in groundwater worldwide. There are
two main types of fibers used to make materials - natural and synthetic.
Natural fibers include:
And a variety of other
plant or animal based fibers.
Synthetic fibers are
materials created from petrochemicals such as:
And variety of other
chemically produced fabrics. Natural Fibers because of their origin are bio
degradable and harmless to the environment, on the condition they are processed
without the use of chemicals. Organic Farming is a costly affair as it involves
more care and no use of artificial means to cultivate the crops, the produce
too is low as compared to commercial farming, and hence organically grown
fibers are expensive.
The Textile Industry
involves lot of processes right from the cultivation of the fibers to the final
stage of fabric. The Spinning, Weaving and the Processing industry churns out
lot of harmful wastes hampering our environment.
A few examples for you:
All the vegetable fibers are
cultivated with the help of pesticides and fertilizers to give a high yield, especially
These fertilizers and pesticides
are harmful to our environment in the long run
Man made fibres though are
advantageous to natural fibres are not suitable in our climatic conditions for
the wearer and also the process involved in making these fibres is more
pollution generating one.
Water is very precious and less
than 1% of water found on our planet can be used for human consumption, all the
textile processing units need lots of water.
All the processing and Dyeing Units
need to have an ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) to avoid polluting the water
table and the soil of our planet.
Washing contributes a considerable
amount of environmental impacts to a garment, especially those that require
detergents and hot water or dry cleaning. It is important to consider how the
garment will be worn and washed because this will contribute to the likely impacts
during the garment's life. Some fabrics require less detergents and can be
cleaned in cold water so will have relatively reduced impacts, assuming all
else is equal.
Textile Industry Poses Environmental Hazards
textile industry has been condemned as being one of the worlds worst offenders
in terms of pollution because it requires a great amount of two components:
as many as 2,000 different chemicals are used in the textile industry, from
dyes to transfer agents; and
produced fabrics contain residuals of chemicals used during their Manufacture - chemicals
that evaporate into the air we breathe or are absorbed through our skin. Some
of the chemicals are carcinogenic or may cause harm to children even before
birth, while others may trigger allergic reactions in some people. Cotton is
the second-most damaging agricultural crop in the world; 25 percent of all Pesticides
used globally are put on cotton crops. Most cotton is irrigated, and the combination
of chemical application (through pesticides and fertilizers) with irrigation is
a direct conduit for toxic chemicals to circulate in groundwater worldwide. Dye
bath effluents may contain heavy metals, ammonia, alkali salts, toxic solids
and large amounts of pigments - many of which are toxic. About 40 percent of globally
used colorants contain organically bound chlorine, a known carcinogen .Natural
dyes are rarely low-impact, depending on the specific dye and mordant used. Mordants
(the substance used to "fix" the color onto the fabric) such as
chromium are very toxic and high impact. The large quantities of natural
dyestuffs required for dyeing, typically equal to or double that of the fiber's
own weight, make natural dyes prepared from wild plants and lichens very high
There are a variety of
production techniques used in the manufacture of fabrics including weaving,
spinning, knitting, wet treatment and sewing. Aside from the energy and water
used during manufacturing, there are also inevitable waste products produced,
such as wastewater that may be contaminated with chemical products.
Manufacturers who employ cleaner production or have environmental management
certification should be given preference because this will reduce the impacts
associated with manufacturing.
The manufacturing process
of fabric or even garment has side effects on the environment. Take for example
the garment industry which emits lot of heat and carbon which is equally
responsible for carbon emissions into the environment and for the ozone
depletion. Chemicals used in the industry are harmful and there the factory
rules and regulations need to be stricter. The main Mantra to be followed is
the three R's Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Inks & Dyes
Wet treatment is the
process of de-sizing, pre-washing, mercerizing, bleaching, printing and dying
that most fabrics go through. Many of these processes require chemicals and
dyes and thus create potentially environmentally hazardous waste products,
contribute to climate change and may release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
into the atmosphere. Avoid inks and dyes that contain toxic heavy metals (for
example, cadmium and beryllium) and, where possible, preference natural dyes
made from plant materials. Also look for dye manufacturers who recycle their
Economic, environmental and political consequences of cotton
The growth of cotton is divided into two segments i.e. organic and
genetically modified. Cotton crop provides livelihood to millions of
people but its production is becoming expensive because of high water
consumption, use of expensive pesticides, insecticides and fertilizer.
Genetically Modified products aim to increase disease resistance and reduce the
water required. The organic sector was worth $583 million. Genetically Modified
cotton, in 2007, occupied 43% of cotton growing areas. The consumption of
energy in form of water and electricity is relatively high, especially in
processes like washing, de-sizing, bleaching, rinsing, dyeing, printing,
coating and finishing. Processing is time consuming. The major portion of water
in textile industry is used for wet processing of textile (70 per cent).
Approximately 25 per cent of energy in the total textile production like fiber
production, spinning, twisting, weaving, knitting, clothing manufacturing etc.
is used in dyeing. About 34 per cent of energy is consumed in spinning, 23 per
cent in weaving, 38 per cent in chemical wet processing and five per cent in
miscellaneous processes. Power dominates consumption pattern in spinning and
weaving, while thermal energy is the major factor for chemical wet processing.
Use Guidelines &
The Wash care labels
should be incorporated with utmost care for specific fiber types, to increase
the life of the textiles as well as our environment. Consumers too need to be
more careful in choosing their garments and at the same time following the
right wash and care instructions, as water and other chemicals are needed for
Wider Ethical Issues
In today's fast moving
world all is fair in business; however it is time we give it a thought to what
is right and wrong, because finally it is we who have to pay the price. God
gave us this beautiful nature for our needs but man has used it for his greed.
Prevention and Control
programs should focus on reduction in water use and on more efficient use of
process chemicals. Process changes might include the following:
Avoid the use of
less-degradable surfactants (in washing and scouring operations) and spinning
Consider the use of
transfer printing for synthetics. Use water-based printing pastes, where
Consider the use of
Use jet dyers
instead of winch dyers where feasible.
Avoid the use of
benzidine-based azoic dyes and dyes containing cadmium and other heavy metals.
Chlorine based dyes should not be used.
Do not use mercury,
arsenic, and banned pesticides in the process.
Control the makeup
of chemicals and match process variables to type and weight of fabric.
Kalliala, EM and Nousiainen, P, "Life Cycle
Assessment Environmental Profile of Cotton and Polyester-Cotton Fabrics", Autex Research Journal,
vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 8-20, 1999
"Environmental Hazards of the
Textile Industry," Environmental Update #24, published by the Hazardous
Substance Research Centers/
South & Southwest Outreach Program, June 2006; Business Week, June
for the Prevention of Marine Pollution, Sixth Meeting of the Working Group on
Industrial Sectors, Oslo: 17-21 January, 1994. INDSEC 6/12/2-E. Agenda Item 12.
Draft Report on Best Available Techniques and Best Environmental Practice for
Wet Processes in the Textile Processing Industry, Presented by Belgium
Environment Programme (UNEP). 1994. The Textile Industry and the Environment.
Technical Report No. 16. Paris: UNEP/IE.
World Bank, Environment Department. 1996. "Pollution
Prevention and Abatement: Textiles Industry." Technical Background