Sustainability Issues in Current Textile and Apparel Industry

What is Sustainability in Textile?

Sustainability in textile or sustainable textiles must be environmentally friendly and should satisfy rational conditions to respect social and environmental quality by preventing pollution or by installing pollution control technologies. Certification, however, is a voluntary process. Any entity conducting a business for which a standard exists may ask to have its output or services certified.

Sustainability in textile and apparel industry
Fig: Sustainability in textile and apparel industry

The textile industry is one of the biggest industrial polluters of freshwater. In some cases, wastewaters are discharged (largely untreated) into groundwater with extreme pH values and temperatures as well as high chemical loading.

Sustainability Issues in Textile Production:

The life cycles of textiles and clothing are unsustainable because of:

  1. Use of toxic chemicals,
  2. High water consumption,
  3. High energy consumption,
  4. Huge waste generation,
  5. Heavy transportation,
  6. Excessive packing materials.

All the above points have discussed below:

1. Use of Toxic Chemicals:

It is difficult to ensure that all of the chemicals used in the textile industry are eco-friendly. The main difficulty is that too many dyes are used in the dyeing and printing of textiles; the Color Index International lists 27,000 individual products under 13,000 Color 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 may cause harm to children even before birth, whereas others may trigger allergic reactions in some people.

2. High Water Consumption:

After agriculture, the textile and related industries are considered to be the second-highest consumer and polluter of clean water). The textile services sector is an essential adjunct to the textile industry and is needed to manufacture, finish, market, and distribute the products. 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 ton 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. Some commonly observed routes of water waste are:

  1. Excessive use of water in washing operations.
  2. Poor housekeeping measures such as broken or missing valves.
  3. Unattended leaks through pipes and hoses.
  4. Instances when cooling waters are left running when machinery is shut down.
  5. Choice of inefficient washing equipment.
  6. Excessively long washing cycles and
  7. Use of fresh water at all points of water use.

The reuse of wastewater can present important savings, namely in the reduction of water, energy, and chemical consumption. The recycling of wastewater is effected in process baths and rinsing waters before water is taken for treatment to remove remaining chemicals and other effluents generated. Steam condensate and cooling water are easily recoverable because they are clean. Their thermal energy can quickly pay back the investment.

3. High Energy Consumption:

The textile industry is a major energy-consuming industry with low efficiency in energy use. About 23% of 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 to heat water and dry textile materials.

The textile industry is one of the largest sources of GHGs, 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 1074 billion kWh of electricity (or 132 million tons of coal) and between 6 and 9 trillion liters of water.

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 built-in inefficiencies 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 on the structure of the manufacturing sector in that country. For instance, the textile industry accounts for about 4% of the final energy use in manufacturing in China, whereas this share is less than 2% in the United States.

4. Huge Waste Generation:

Like any other industry, the textile industry generates all categories of industrial wastes: liquids, solids, and gases. For greener processes, nonrenewable 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 the 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 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 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.

5. Heavy Transportation:

Generally, textile units require large areas and a large amount of labor. Hence modern textile units are located in remote places far from big cities. Long-distance transport is required to move the finished products from the factories located in low-paying countries to consumers in developed countries, thus adding to the overall quantity of nonrenewable fuel consumed.

The impact of transport is relatively low except for those arising from the formation of photochemical oxidants (smog), which comes from using trucks, ships, and planes. It is estimated that 8% of imported textiles are carried by air freight; the rest (92%) is by ship. Although air freight accounts for only a small share of distribution, its impacts are proportionally much higher.

6. Excessive Packing Materials:

The 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, 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 reusing packaging components for other purposes or products, and employing recycled materials (e.g., paper, cotton, jute, hemp, wood), biodegradable materials, natural products grown without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilizers and reusable materials (e.g., cotton bags or hemp). Reducing packaging waste is one of the best ways to minimize environmental impact. EU Directive 94/62/EC specifies the 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 in textile. At the end stage of design, it involves increased use of life-cycle inventory and life-cycle assessment (LCA), which considers the material and energy inputs and outputs to the package, the packaged product (contents), the packaging process, and the logistics system.

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