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Sustainable Textiles

‘We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’

The universe has blessed us with abundant natural resources but these are not infinite. It is our duty and responsibility to hand over the planet to our grandchildren in a better condition than what we received from our ancestors. While industrialization ensured comfort and ease of living, it also heralded an era of out-and- out disregard for our natural resources.

Like many other industries, Textile industry too is guilty of defiling our ecology.

Let us understand which stages of textile manufacture contributes most to pollution.

Manufacture of textiles/clothing can be split into 2 stages:

a)Raw material stage ie fibre stage

Synthetic fibres are cheaper and quicker to manufacture. But they contribute an overwhelming amount of chemicals, waste and carbon emissions. Apart from this the microplastic waste ends up in the seafood humans consume.

Even natural fibres if cultivated using harmful practices end up damaging the environment.

An alarming fact about cotton is that though it only covers 2.5% of cultivated land in the world, it uses almost 15% of world’s pesticides more than any other single crop.

Environmental consequences of the elevated use of chemicals in the non-organic cotton growing methods include the following: a)Chemicals used in the processing of cotton pollute the air and surface waters. B)Damage to ecology by use of excessive pesticides

b)Processing stage which involves finishing/dyeing/printing of the fabric

Conventional clothing uses thousands of chemicals derived from petroleum for its processing and is responsible for staggering 17-20 percent of global water pollution. And this doesn’t even account for air and other types of pollution released in creating the 140 billion articles of clothing made every year. Beyond being taxing on the environment, some of these such as azo dyes are suspected carcinogens. Even the textile mills who use effluent treatment plants, discharge the sludge and waste water with complete disregard to BoD and CoD norms.

Textile industry uses 93 billion cubic litres of water annually. To put this into perspective, to create 1 T-shirt, 2700 litres of water is used which is enough water for a person to drink for 900 days.

Apart from the above two stages of textile manufacture, Fast Fashion too contributes to deteriorating ecology. Suppliers knock off designerwear to launch cheap imitations with increasing frequency and customers lap up these fads to buy apparel as use and throw. A piece of garment that has a longevity of a couple of years is disposed within a month as it has been clicked and paraded on Instagram- an act that cannot be repeated with the same piece of clothing.

The textile/fashion industry can usher in sustainability in 4 ways:

1)Judicious selection of fibre

Avoiding synthetic fibres. Using natural fibres like cotton and linen grown organically.

2)Correct method of fabric wet processing and disposal of sludge

Even if there is a need to use large amounts of water, the mills should ensure that the water is treated and the discharge meets the Biological Oxygen Demand norms, hence does not harm the environment.

3)Recycling of used textiles

Scavenging old/used textile materials to obtain fibre which is again used as the base material for yarn, fabrics and subsequently apparel. This ensures that even if synthetic fibres have been used to prepare the virgin fabric, this is reused and given 1 more lifecycle before being disposed into the environment.

4)Slow Fashion

Slow Fashion is exact opposite of Fast Fashion. It focusses on slowing down consumerism. Some elements of the slow fashion philosophy include buying vintage clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, making clothes and accessories at home and buying garments that last longer. We should endeavour to follow at least one of the principles of slow fashion to make our little contribution towards a greener earth.

As much as it is the responsibility of the textile industry, to take up the subject of sustainability on a serious note; it also befalls on the consumers to do their bit towards sustainability.

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