Recycling and Sustainability in Textile: Present Situation, Challenges and Future

Recycling and Sustainability in Textile: Present Situation, Challenges and Future

Mofizur Rahaman Akash
Fabric Marketing,
Unifill Composit Dyeing Mills Ltd.


Recycling and sustainability:
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. The recovery of energy from waste materials is often included in this concept. The recyclability of a material depends on its ability to reacquire the properties it had in its original state. It is an alternative to “conventional” waste disposal that can save material and help lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling and Sustainability in Textile

Recycling is a key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” waste hierarchy. It promotes environmental sustainability by removing raw material input and redirecting waste output in the economic system. There are some ISO standards related to recycling, such as ISO 15270:2008 for plastics waste and ISO 14001:2015 for environmental management control of recycling practice.

Key points: Green energy, Environment, Eco-compliance, Cost savings, Industrial revolution, Global warming, Developing country.

What is the current state of recycling & sustainability in the textile sector?
“The clothing industry contributes up to 10% of the pollution driving the climate crisis.” One of the most polluting industries is textiles and clothing; its detrimental ecological footprint is caused by high energy, water and chemical use, the generation of textile waste and microfiber shedding into the environment during laundering Furthermore, it has been estimated that up to 20% of industrial wastewater pollution is caused by textile dyeing and finishing.

The environmental impacts of the fashion industry are widespread and substantial. For example, although there is a range of estimates, the industry produces 8-10% of global CO2 emissions (4-5 billion tons annually). The fashion industry is also a major consumer of water (79 trillion liter’s per year), responsible for ~20% of industrial water pollution from textile treatment and dyeing, contributes ~35% (190,000 tons per year) of oceanic primary micro plastic pollution1 and produces vast quantities of textile waste (>92 million tons per year), much of which ends up in landfill or is burnt, including unsold product. The rising environmental impact (and awareness thereof) can be attributed to the substantial increase in clothing consumption and, therefore, textile production. Global per-capita textile production, for instance, has increased from 5.9 kg to 13 kg per year over the period 1975–2018. Similarly, global consumption has risen to an estimated 62 million tons of apparel per year, and is projected to reach 102 million tons by 2030. As a result, fashion brands are now producing almost twice the amount of clothing today compared with before the year 2000.

However, textile industries are backbone of human civilization. Hence, all efforts are made to improve its sustainability. The use of eco-friendly textile materials, dye and chemicals, adaptation of new, improved processes with strict process controls, waterless dyeing are some of the ways by which sustainability can be improved.

Sustainable textiles should be environmentally friendly and should satisfy the rational conditions to respect social and environmental quality by pollution prevention or through installation of pollution-control technologies.

How Textile mills are contributing to this whole effort of recycling & sustainability?
For sustainable basically some certifications/platforms are required from buyer end, here is the most usable things GOTS, OCS, RCS, BCI, SVCOC etc.

For all sustainable process require some of special methods which we have to follow and to follow those requirements we have consider to less productivity in regular processes.

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Decrease regular productivity and need more manpower as sustainable are new innovations.

We’ve allocated some machineries for sustainable production to secure production with special care.

What are the challenges of textile recycling & sustainability?
The following six issues have the potential to make the life cycles of textiles and clothing unsustainable:

  1. Use of toxic chemicals
  2. Consumption of water
  3. Consumption of energy
  4. Generation of waste
  5. Transportation
  6. Packing materials.

1. Use of toxic chemicals:
Many dyes and chemicals, used in the textile industry, are toxic and non-eco-friendly. A large number of dyes are used in the dyeing and printing of textiles; the Colour Index International lists 27,000 individual products under 13,000 Colour Index Generic Names. Volatile chemicals pose particular problems because they evaporate into the air or are absorbed into foods or through the skin. Some chemicals are carcinogenic or some are harmful to children even before birth, while others may trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Lists of restricted substances are constantly changing as more information from scientists and health professionals becomes available, leading to an enhanced understanding of chemicals and their effect on human health and the environment. The substances listed in the Restricted Substances List (RSL) are based in large part on global legislation regulating chemicals usage in the manufacturing of apparel products. The European Union has developed the organization namely “Regulation Concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals” or “REACH” which is aimed at ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.

2. Consumption of water:
After agriculture, the textile and related industries are considered to be the second highest consumer and polluter of clean water. Water is used in many steps of the textile dyeing process both to convey the chemicals used during the step and to wash them out before beginning the next step. In a traditional dyeing and finishing operation for example, one tons of fabric could result in the pollution of up to 200 tons of water by a suite of harmful chemicals and in the process consume large amounts of energy for steam and hot water. With the industry now centered in countries with still-developing environmental regulatory systems, such as China, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, textile manufacturing continues to have a huge environmental footprint.

The reutilization of waste water can present very important savings, namely in reduction of water, energy and chemical consumption. The recycling of waste water is affected in process baths and rinsing waters, before water is taken for treatment for removal of remaining chemicals and other effluents generated. Steam condensate and cooling water are easily recoverable as they are clean. Their thermal energy can very quickly pay back the investment.

With the continuous growth of global production and consumption of textile-related products and services, there are both opportunities and challenges for the textile industry.

3. Consumption of energy:
The textile industry is a major energy-consuming industry with low efficiency in energy utilization. About 23% of the total energy is consumed in weaving, 34% in spinning, 38% in chemical processing and another 5% for miscellaneous purposes. Thermal energy dominates in chemical processing while electrical power dominates the energy consumption pattern in spinning and weaving. Thermal energy in textile mills is mainly consumed for the heating of water and drying of textile materials.

The textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), not least because of its enormous size. In 2008, the annual global production of textiles was estimated at 60 billion kilograms of fabric with associated (estimated) energy and water needs of 1,074 billion kWh of electricity (or 132 million tons of coal) and between 6 to 9 trillion liters of water.

A large quantity of non-renewable energy sources are eventually consumed in the form of electricity, not so much in the process of textile production (15-20%) but mostly in subsequent laundering processes during consumer use (75-80%). It is reported that the total thermal energy required per meter of cloth is 18.8-23 MJ and the electrical energy required per meter of cloth is 0.45-0.55 kWh. The energy used is mostly consumed by heating process water or for use in laundering and drying materials after laundering.

Energy is one of the main cost factors in the textile industry. Especially in times of high energy price volatility, improving energy efficiency should be a primary concern for textile plants and various energy-efficiency opportunities exist in every textile plant, many of which are cost- effective, but not implemented because of limited information or high initial cost. For example, the use of electricity is associated with in-built inefficiencies as compared with the direct use of thermal energy and the use of steam is less-efficient than direct-fired gas heating in a mill. The share of total manufacturing energy consumed by the textile industry in a particular country depends upon the structure of the manufacturing sector in that country.

Spinning consumes the greatest share of electricity (41%) followed by weaving (including weaving preparation) (18%) whereas wet-processing preparation (de-sizing; bleaching) and finishing together consume the greatest share of thermal energy (35%). A significant amount of thermal energy is also lost during steam generation and distribution (35%), but these percentages will vary by plant. Such analysis of energy-efficiency improvement opportunities in the textile industry points to advantages to be gained from retrofit/process optimization, not just from complete replacement of current machinery with state-of-the-art new technology.

There are various possibilities for using renewable energy in the textile industry. Four examples from a range of possible measures are:

  1. Installation of wind-powered Turbo Ventilators on production plant roofs;
  2. Use of direct solar energy for fiber drying; and
  3. Use of solar energy for water heating in the textile industry;
  4. Solar electricity generation

4. Generation of waste:
Like any other industry, the textile industry generates all categories of industrial wastes namely liquids, solids and gases. For greener processes, non-renewable wastes need to be recycled and renewable wastes need to be composted if recycling is not an option. Various useful materials can be recovered from textile process wastes.

The recovery of chemicals such as sodium hydroxide from mercerization baths is achievable by heating to concentrate the solution; following such a step, 90% of the sodium hydroxide can be recovered. The EVAC vacuum suction system in the textile dyeing process recovers hot alkaline hydrogen peroxide, additives and finishing chemicals. EVAC is the trade name of a vacuum system which has been introduced in Thailand from the United States. This equipment is installed at the finishing stage to suck excess chemical solution from the fabric, and then transfer it to the storage tank for recovery and recycling.

De-sizing effluent containing Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) has high chemical oxygen demand (COD) and hence, contribute significantly to a textile plant’s Primary Oxygenation Treatment of Water (POTW) operation, and being biologically inert, it presents a threat to the environment. Unfortunately, no effective and efficient means to treat PVA de-size effluent has been implemented in the textile industry. Ultrafiltration (UF) reverse osmosis technology for the recovery and recycling of PVA size is more than 40 years old, but it is not used widely because of its many disadvantages. The situation necessitates a new technology for the recovery and recycling of PVA size which can reduce energy and water consumption in an economical and environmentally-friendly manner. A new technology that would eliminate the disadvantages of the current ultrafiltration process in the recovery of PVA from de-size effluent is vacuum flash evaporation (VFE). The VFE process for recovery and concentration has been used in a variety of other industries, but has never been demonstrated for size recovery in the textile industry.

5. Transportation:
Long-distance transport is required to move the finished products from the factories located in low labor-cost countries to the consumer in a developed country, thus adding to the overall quantity of non-renewable fuel consumed.

6. Packing materials:
Packaging is the science, art, and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale, and use. Packaging also refers to the process of design, evaluation, and production of packages. Packaging can be described as a coordinated system of preparing goods for transport, warehousing, logistics, sale, and end use. Packaging contains, protects, preserves, transports, informs, and sells. For consumer packaging, the packaging used to present products in stores, the materials often used are plastic, paper, metal, aluminum, cotton, hemp and biodegradable materials. Companies implementing eco-friendly actions are reducing their carbon footprint by using more recycled materials, increasingly re-using packaging components for other purposes or products, employing recycled materials (e.g. paper, cotton, jute, hemp, wood), biodegradable materials, natural products grown without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilizers and re-usable materials (e.g. cotton bags or hemp). Reducing packaging waste is one of the best ways of minimizing environmental impact. EU Directive 94/62/EC specifies a number of requirements relevant for packaging and packaging waste. It also sets specific recycling targets and maximum levels for heavy metals. Sustainable packaging is the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. At the end stage of design it involves increased use of life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle assessment (LCA) which considers the material and energy inputs and outputs to the package, the packaged product (contents), the packaging process, the logistics system.

What are the possible ways to overcome those challenges?
Sustainability of textile processing can be improved by several ways such as:

  1. Substitution of unsustainable textile materials and chemicals by greener organic and biodegradable materials.
  2. Elimination or minimization of the use of toxic chemicals in production and packing
  3. Minimization of the use of water and chemicals and recycling them.
  4. Minimization of consumption of energy and fuel in production and transport.
  5. Minimization of waste and easy waste disposal.
  6. Maintaining environmental management systems strictly.

What are the future of recycling & sustainability in the textile & apparels sector of Bangladesh?
Life of the world is so busy for keeping pace with the newest and updated version of communication technology but fall in the fear of global warming, at that time new industrial revolution is initiated with the motto of communication technology and green energy. This revolution has shifted to developing countries like Bangladesh. The newest and outstanding technology is also coming to use green energy and many countries are coming to the dependency on it not only for their home use but also for industrialization. As a textile industry based developing country Bangladesh has a great chance to take this opportunity. In this paper focusing on Feasibility of Bangladeshi Textile Industries, I would like to cover feasibility analysis of using green energy and also comparison with the conventional energy environmentally and economically.

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1 thought on “Recycling and Sustainability in Textile: Present Situation, Challenges and Future”

  1. Hi, thank you for this informative article. I believe manufacturers of spinning cans and spinning mill owners have the power to significantly alter this situation by acting responsibly and consciously and by fostering a greater concern for the environment.


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