The textile industry is one of the largest industries in the world – producing on average 60 billion kilograms of fabric annually. Textile dyeing has become one of the most environmentally polluting industries on the planet – degrading water, air and soil in areas of production. Are you aware that 72 toxic chemicals have been identified in fresh water systems coming solely from textile dyeing?
Not so Natural Dyes:
Until the mid 19th century the majority of dyes used were produced naturally. Mauveine, a synthetic mauve pigment obtained from aniline, was produced in 1856, and since then synthetic dyes have dominated the industry. Synthetic dyes are more affordable, can be produced in a wider variety of colors, and are very easy to produce. Unfortunately, the shift to synthetic dyes has been extremely detrimental to the health of our planet. The effects on our planet include: air, water and soil pollution.
Facts on Textile Dyeing:
- 17% to 20% of all industrial water pollution is caused by fabric dyes and treatments.
- It’s the estimated 10,000 different dyes are used industrially.
- 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to bleach, treat, and brighten our clothes.
- Azo dyes, which account for 60-70% of all dyes in the industry, are known carcinogens.
- Mills can use up to 200 tons of water per ton of dyed fabric, which in turn, only produces about 1400 pieces of clothing.
- Colloidal matter in dye prevents the penetration of sunlight necessary for the process of photosynthesis creating plumes of invasive algae.
- Mills discharge millions of gallons of effluent as hazardous toxic waste, full of color and organic chemicals from dyeing and finishing salts.
- The wastewater from textile plants is classified as the most polluting of all the industrial sectors, considering the volume generated as well as the effluent composition.
- During the dyeing process it is estimated that the loss of colorants ending up in the environment range from 10-50% depending on the color and chemicals used.
- Phthalates and NPE’s are among the chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which are used often and in vast quantities in textile processing.
- Synthetic dyes have endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine or hormone systems at certain doses.
How can I make an impact:
Action 1: Global Goodness
- Reduce, reduce, reduce. Our overconsumption of textiles creates an erroneous demand for production. We can make the larges individual impact by reducing our consumption and shopping at consignment or upcycled clothing stores.
- Buy clothing made from natural fibers like organic cotton, hemp and linen. Shopping organic with natural textiles prevent the use of synthetic chemicals and dyes.
Action 2: Planet Protector
- All of Action 1
- Purchase naturally dyed products. There are many dyes that utilize nature to make color. Tree branches, leaves, turmeric, beets, are just some examples of natural dyes that don’t harm the planet.
- Dye your own. Get creative in your own fashion sense. Buy organic clothing that is white or grey and dye them yourself. There are some great how-to Youtube videos on organic dyeing.
Action 3: Earth Angel
- All of Action 1 & 2
- Support initiatives that promote AirDye processes. Air dyeing greatly reduces the amount of water consumed in the dyeing process.
- Ask your local Congressman to increase regulations on the textile industry.
- Educate others on the environmental and health impacts of synthetic dyes in the textile industries. An increase in organic clothing purchases would likely cause the industry to shift into more sustainable textile practices.