The textile manufacturing process is colossally polluting. All the way from fibre production through to creating a consumable product there are several processes that are unsustainable and contribute their fair share of pollutants along the way. So it’s no surprise that the textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world.
The good news is that several innovations are emerging to mitigate these effect across the board. Here is a quick overview of inspiring practices that will hopefully pave the way for the future of the fashion industry.
Research in new fabrics continues to throw up novel and often surprising fabrics. Fibres from materials like nettle, milk, coffee-grounds and hemp-silk, for instance, could provide organic, energy-efficient alternatives to cotton and polyester. Besides, each such fabric is found to have its own unique applications ranging from flexibility, tenacity of fibre to natural anti-bacterial, water-proofing and insulating properties.
Companies like AirDye work with proprietary dyes that are heat-transferred from paper to fabric in a one-step process, saving water (between 7 and 75 gallons per pound of fabric) and energy (85% less energy than traditional dying).
Prints are directly applied to fabrics with printers, reducing water usage by 95%, energy usage by 75% and minimizing textile waste. This technique has been used by designers like Mary Katrantzou, Alexander McQueen and Basso & Brooke.
Water-free Stone Washing
Levi’s WaterLess products are a water-conserving collection that allows the company to use an average of 28% less water to finish their jeans.
‘Direct Panel on Loom’ technology, also called Smart Tailoring increases fabric efficiency (by 15%) and reduces lead-time (by 50%) in the manufacture of high-end garments. Using a computer attached to a loom, data on colour, pattern and size of garment is fed in and the loom cranks out the exact pieces, which then simply need to be constructed. The technology also has energy and water savings of 70-80%.
Filtering Waste Water
A technology called Sequencing Batch Biofilter Granular Reactor has been developed to remove the toxic organic compounds in textile dyes components by breaking them down via ozone treatment, prior to the application of a wastewater bio-filtering technique.
The wastewater is poured over microorganisms grown in aggregates, which process pollutants in the waste. Unlike traditional biological systems, each aggregate holds up to 10 times more microorganisms and produces 80 percent less sludge than conventional biological filters.
Advanced mechanised sorting machines increase efficiency and productivity, also cutting labour costs of sorting discarded textile for reuse. As opposed to manual labour, the machines statistically account for everything they sort. This data can then be used to determine yields, sale value, raw material cost, labor wages, productivity of human operators and so on to further optimise the supply chain.
Recycling Textile to Textile
Mechanical recycling process results in damage to the fibre, shortening it and making it less suitable for use. Since a majority of clothes are made from a blend of textiles, it makes them much harder to recycle mechanically. New technologies are being developed to find a way to split these back into their constituent parts to enable them to be recycled into usable textiles again.
H&M has teamed up with Puma to trial a technology that separates and extracts polyester and cotton from blended fibre clothing and aims to separate dyes and other particles from polyester and cellulose. The raw materials that are recaptured will then be used to spin new fabric for clothes.
While most of these are in a nascent stage and are far from becoming standard operating procedures in the textile industry, they are much needed leaps in the right direction.