The textile industry’s environmental impact is a long-standing subject of scrutiny, with parties ranging from concerned consumers to government officials chiming in to suggest how to make meaningful, positive changes. Here are five ways textile manufacturers could stimulate progress.
Reduce the use of toxic processes
One option for textile manufacturers to make improvements is to analyze which processes cause the most harm to the planet and look for ways to alter or remove them. Researchers at Aalto University came up with a non-toxic method of making waterproof, breathable textiles. It involves working with a carnauba wax coating.
The team also determined that textile manufacturers could use their method to dye and waterproof the materials simultaneously. The multitasking aspect of this technique could also support environmental gains by reducing the resources used during production.
Investigate recycled textile creation options
A growing number of textile companies turned to recycled materials to lessen their environmental impacts. One company makes nylon from recycled fishing nets, while another focuses on post-consumer cotton and polyester. Waste is not going away, and these forward-thinking businesses want to make new things from it.
It’s not just the textiles that help the environment through recycling. Some brands say their processes for working with the textiles reduce water usage by 98% while cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 90%. These new textiles are not yet widespread, but they could become more popular once people know they exist. Many conscious consumers are eager to help the planet by choosing eco-friendly apparel, and this is one way to do that.
Stop participating in the fast fashion trend
The rise of fast fashion concerns apparel that textile makers churn out quickly to meet ever-fluctuating consumer trends. There’s a related shift away from clothing made to last, too. Many fast-fashion retailers expect people to wear the garments a few times, then discard them. That short cycle means there is no need to focus on high-quality items that last for years.
Consider that while the traditional clothing industry has two cycles per year, fast fashion has 50. That’s nearly a new cycle for every week of the year. This shift means that people buy more garments but don’t wear them as often. Textile manufacturers could make an honest effort to bow out of the fast-fashion craze. Many companies in the United States and elsewhere offer ethically sourced clothing that opposes the throwaway culture of fast fashion.
Improve wastewater-related practices
The textile industry is a substantial wastewater producer, especially during the coloring and finishing steps associated with clothing. To put the matter into perspective, consider that the industry uses about 100 to 200 liters of water for every kilogram of the produced item. One option is to recycle the wastewater. One project in a Pakistani textile factory used a membrane bioreactor and reverse osmosis to do that, making the water suitable for reuse during fabric rinsing.
Another possibility is to remove contaminants like dyes from the wastewater before it leaves a factory and contributes to pollution. A doctoral student recently explored various methods of achieving that goal. Her experiments cleaned the wastewater while reducing energy expenditure and chemicals used. Many options are not ready for widespread use, but textile manufacturers should stay abreast of advancements and be prepared to adopt them when possible.
Develop fabrics that shed less
Textile manufacturers can also help the planet by engineering fabrics that are less likely to drop plastic microfibers during the washing cycle. A research team found that the water volume used during a wash cycle was one of the primary factors causing the release of those particles. Their statistics showed that a delicate wash cycle shed 800,000 more fibers than a standard washing setting. That outcome contributes to increased plastic pollution in our oceans.
The scientists showed that previous research indicated that the washer’s spin speed, the number of times the drum changed direction or the pauses in a cycle could cause fabric shedding too. However, this new work indicates delicate cycles trigger the undesired effect even more. These conclusions mean that by creating textiles that do not require delicate washes and are less likely to shed, manufacturers cut down on the planet’s pollution.
A commitment to change sparks impressive results
The five actions on this list are things manufacturers can do at the factory level. Other factors — such as government regulations or supply chain shortages — could cause the textile sector to gradually operate in ways that support the environment.
Regardless of the methods used, the all-important first step for a textile factory to take is to pick a plan of action. Then, they must stick to it. Many companies make vague promises about improvements they’d like to enact at some point, but they stop short of specifics. When businesses determine what’s in their power to do and commit to following through, they’ll be on the right path for solving a pressing problem in the fashion sector.