Assessing the Environmental Impact of Textile Production Processes and Promoting Sustainability

Assessing the Environmental Impact of Textile Production Processes and Promoting Sustainability

Raha Ahmed Chowdhury
7th Batch
Textile Engineering College Noakhali Affiliated by BUTEX


Recent research papers have shed light on the environmental impact of textile production processes, particularly in how they contribute to pollution. Man-made fibers release micro plastics that enter our food chain. The dyeing and washing processes in the textile industry consume significant amounts of water and energy. While some industries utilize Water Treatment Plants (WTP) to purify the polluted water, this practice is not yet widespread. This article aims to explore the environmental impact of dyeing and washing processes, present sustainable methods to address this issue, and introduce sustainable dyes, chemicals, and fibers as potential solutions.

Keywords: Dyeing, washing, printing, sustainable dyeing, WTP, heavy metals, VOCs, sustainable dyeing, organic cotton, renewable polyester, Tencel, abaca plants, etc.

Environmental Impact Caused by Textile Processing:
The dyeing and washing processes in the textile industry have a significant negative impact on the environment. Large amounts of water and energy are consumed in these processes, along with the use of various chemical agents such as Nonylphenolethoxalates (NPEO or NPE) and Alkylphenols of AlkylphenolEthoxalates (APEOs) in different stages like sizing, desizing, scouring, and bleaching. The presence of these substances has led to bans by the EU due to their harmful effects on aquatic life. Additionally, chemicals like Pentachlorophenol (PCP) used as starch preservative, Azo dyes, Chlorobenzene, Chlorotoluene, and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and selenium are found in textile products and printing processes, posing significant environmental and health risks. Furthermore, some disperse dyes and other chemicals used in textile production have been linked to allergic and carcinogenic effects. Throughout the entire lifecycle of textile manufacturing, starting from the production of fibers to the care of the final product by consumers, significant emissions, pollution, and carbon release occur, thereby posing increasing risks to the environment. It’s important to address these issues to minimize the negative impact on the environment and public health.

Environmental hazards for textile processing
Fig: Environmental hazards for textile processing

Sustainable Dyeing:
The demand for sustainable dyeing in the textile industry is increasing. Sustainable dyeing is a process that involves using optimal amounts of water, chemicals approved by environmental agencies, renewable energy, and eco-friendly methods to produce high-quality textile products. Unlike conventional methods, sustainable dyeing minimizes the wastage of water, energy, dyes, chemicals, and auxiliaries. Establishing a complete sustainable waste disposal system poses a significant challenge for textile industries.

Exploring Ecofriendly Dyes, Chemicals and Auxiliaries:
To address this challenge, eco-friendly dyes such as Avitera, invented by Huntsman and approved by bluesign, are being used. These reactive dyes can be applied in the dyeing processes of cotton and other natural fibers, and they help reduce carbon dioxide emissions while saving up to 50% of energy and water.Cadira (by Dystar) is designed to reduce costs, energy, and water usage, offering a sustainable solution to alleviate environmental pollution. The use of natural dyes such as indigo, madder (producing red, orange, and pink shades), and cochineal derived from the Dactylopius Coccus insect can revolutionize the dyeing process. In addition to these natural dyes, it’s essential to consider low impact synthetic dyes. Furthermore, the utilization of biodegradable/eco dyes like Archroma (derived from agricultural wastage) and clorofix (which utilizes plant-based fixatives instead of toxic chemicals) will undoubtedly contribute to the restoration of our ecosystem.In solvent-based printing methods, the ink releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like esters, hydrocarbons, and alcohols. These VOCs contribute to the creation of ozone in the atmosphere and are known to be carcinogenic. As a result, water-based printing methods are considered to be more environmentally friendly compared to solvent-based printing methods.

Avitera; A sustainable dye
Fig: Avitera; A sustainable dye

Sustainable Fibers:
The foundation of the 4th industrial revolution lies in sustainable development. The textile industry is intricately linked to this concept, with the ultimate goal being the attainment of long-term economic growth through the production of sustainable textile products using environmentally friendly methods. This involves incorporating materials such as organic cotton, renewable polyester, and Tencel into the production process.

Organic cotton is cultivated without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and with the use of clean water, organic seeds, and uncontaminated air and soil. The resulting fabric requires minimal water and energy, is conducive to a healthier ecosystem, provides safe working conditions and improved livelihoods, and yields a soft and durable textile. Certified and traceable by standards such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Organic Cotton Standard (OCS), the utilization of organic cotton reduces environmental risks as its production and usage increases.

Organic cotton
Fig: Organic cotton

Renewable polyester is a more sustainable alternative to traditional polyester, which takes a long time to decompose and emits a significant amount of carbon, posing a risk to the environment. Many brands are now producing renewable polyester by utilizing plastic bags and bottles. However, bio polyester, made from bio waste and crops instead of virgin polyester and petroleum, is considered even more eco-friendly and sustainable.

Recycled polyester product
Fig: Recycled polyester product

Tencel™ Lyocell and Modal are regenerated cellulosic fibers. Tencel™ Lyocell is known for its excellent moisture management and skin-friendly properties, while Tencel™ Modal is valued for its softness, flexibility, and ability to produce durable textile products. Both fibers are considered eco-friendly and sustainable, making them profitable choices for the textile industry.

Tencel™ Lyocell fiber
Fig: Tencel™ Lyocell fiber

Fibers derived from the Manila hemp, naturally sourced from the abaca plant, play a significant role in sustainability. The structure of the abaca leaf fiber is lignocellulosic, embodying sustainable natural characteristics. Its exceptional tensile and folding strength, resistance to saltwater, floatability, and high porosity make it an outstanding fiber.

Tencel™ Modal fiber
Fig: Tencel™ Modal fiber

In summary, natural and regenerated fibers are crucial alternatives for producing sustainable and eco-friendly textile products. Addressing the environmental impact of the textile production is the foremost challenge of the 21st century. It is imperative for the textile industry and associated organizations to embrace this challenge, ensuring that we do not burden future generations with the consequences of our actions.

Image resources:

  1. Solidaridad-Guidebook-Wet-Processing-151220.pdf


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