Textile industry pollution: what are the solutions?

Rio Yangtzé

Water and textile industry

The conventional textile industry uses large amounts of water and chemicals in their processes. This is a serious environmental problem because there are few industries that clean up their wastewater, so they directly pour it untreated into rivers, turning them into a macabre chemical soup, filled with synthetic dyes and other toxic substances. These dyes are designed to resist the action of light, water and chemicals in the clothes, however, these properties are precisely those which prevent their biodegradation in the environment. These toxins can be hormone disruptors, affect the reproductive system and they can even be carcinogenic. They are incorporated into the food chain and seep into the soil and underground aquifers. According to recent research, up to 70% of rivers, lakes and reservoirs in China are polluted.

According to the “Cleaning Up The Fashion Industry” report, the textile industry is one of the biggest polluters of water in China. Chinese exports of apparel represent 30% of the world and some important fashion brands , including H&M, Adidas, Nike, Victoria’s Secret, and Zara, have links with factories in China that do not respect environmental laws. Through the “Detox” campaign of Greenpeace, three major sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma have recently committed to eliminate toxic chemicals from their supply chains and products.

Water can be contaminated at different points in the manufacturing process, the waste water from dyeing and finishing processes account for 80% of total wastewater. The water used in processing of the fibers is 12%, and the remaining 8% comes from other links in the supply chain.

Are there solutions?

Among the possible solutions to this serious problem, finding effective alternatives for treating wastewater, with the government guarantee that such treatments are mandatory for the companies is key.

Another solution involves the consumers themselves, relying on a model of responsible consumption.We can get informed about the policies of apparel brands in both environmental and in terms of labor rights and support social and environmental responsible brands. We should not underestimate the power we have as consumers, because every time we buy an item, we are supporting the production model and the model of society we want.

Eco fashion or sustainable fashion is becoming a very attractive option for consumers. Within this trend we can find clothes made of natural fibers from organic farming or recycled fibers, natural dyes and nontoxic manufacturing processes with low environmental impact.

Alternatives for the treatment of textile wastewater

Filtration techniques most commonly used for the treatment of textile wastewater besides having a high cost, create secondary waste. A study at the University of Lund, Sweden, has found viable alternatives in the use of enzymes of fungi (white rot fungi), with high rates of degradation of the dyes, but not complete. The photocatalytic process known as photo-Fenton (based in the production of highly reactive hydroxyl radicals) combined with biological enzymatic treatments can be regarded as a promising alternative for the treatment of textile wastewater.

 

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About the author
Bióloga especialista en Bioquímica y Biología Molecular. Me gusta caminar por la Tierra como lo haría por el vientre de mi madre, con infinito respeto y amor. Soy una apasionada de la bioconstrucción, la agricultura ecológica, las energías renovables y los movimientos sociales que luchan por un mundo más justo. Intento vivir una vida más sostenible mientras sueño con la autosuficiencia alimentaria y energética, aunque soy consciente de que mi huella aún es grande. Actualmente compatibilizo mi labor en Opción Bio con el proyecto de cosmética ecológica Alter Eco. elsa@opcionbio.es

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