How to Reduce Carbon Footprint in Textile Industry
In the recent years, we have witnessed exponential increase of the Green House Gases (GHG) emissions. These emissions causes the atmospheric temperature to rise. It is reported that there is about 6 % rise only in the year 2010 (releasing about 500 mn MT) majority of which is attributed to the top three pollutants of the world: China, the USA and India. The Green House Gas emission is caused by the production and consumption of fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, and services.
Without a doubt, climate change is one of the most important problems of the 21st century. It effects everything: from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the food we grow.
The natural fibers are the backbone of the textile industry, and climate change effects the growth and production of these natural fibers. So, it’s okay to say that the textile industry should make this major global issue a priority. The textile industry is one of the major contributor to the global warming. The following analysis present some scary facts from the fashion industry.
The Case of Cotton Fiber
Cotton production alone leaves a huge impact on the environment. According to Textile Today, a kilogram of cotton (the equivalent of one pair of jeans and one t-shirt) can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce which is equal to 5,500 gallons of water. Additionally, only 2.4% of the world’s crop land has cotton planted in it, yet it accounts for 24% of global sales of insecticide.
It’s not just the production of natural fibers that will affect the textile and apparel industry. The industry is known for being one of the most polluting industries of the modern world. The carbon footprint left behind by major textile operations is huge. The carbon released throughout the supply chain produces 1.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year. Over 60% of textiles are used in the clothing industry and a large proportions of clothing manufacturing take place in China and India –the countries which rely on coal-fueled power plants-.
One way the industry can make positive changes is by switching to renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. This would drastically reduce the amount of energy consumed by factories and improve sustainability around the world.
“The apparel sector is the one where there’s a lot of uncertainty about what exactly the impacts are,” said Nate Aden, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, at a panel discussion on climate change in NYC. “The best number we have now is about five percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the textile industry. To give you some sense of perspective, that’s about equivalent to the impact from the aviation sector, so all the planes flying in the world. Or in country terms, that’s about equal to Russia. So it’s pretty significant.”
The Case of Synthetic Fiber
Synthetic fibers have seen rapid production growth since their introduction in the second half of the twentieth century. Polyester is now the most commonly used fabric in clothing, having overtaken cotton early in the twenty-first century. For polyester and other synthetic materials, the emissions for production are much higher as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil. In 2015, production of polyester for textiles use resulted in more than 706 billion kg of CO2e.
The studies estimate a single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2e, compared with 2.1 kg CO2e for one made from cotton. However cotton is a thirsty crop and its production has greater impacts on land and water.
With limited recycling options to recover reusable fibers, almost 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production ending in landfill or incineration. To put that into context, that is one trash truck per second to landfill. It has been estimated that less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled within the clothing industry, with around 13% recycled for use in other areas.
There is also a push to return to slow fashion, with higher quality garments with longer product life and utilization. The recent report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation advocates for a shift to a circular economy, where the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible and waste and resource use is minimized.
This, alongside efforts to minimize negative environmental impacts from production, will create a more sustainable industry. For suggestions such as clothing rentals, and increased durability allowing reuse and resale, a shift in consumer behavior and attitude is required for them to gain traction.
How Can Better Textiles Reduce Carbon Emissions?
1.Using Alternative Fabrics
Some of the most common textiles are also the most harmful to the environment. Cotton necessitates more pesticide use than any other crop in the U.S., and polyester requires the use of over 70,000,000 barrels of oil each year. Alternative textiles such as flax, hemp, and even “spider silk” are increasingly being seen as an alternative to traditional fabrics, because of their increased sustainability. Many of these textiles offer properties such as conductivity and high-tensile strength that make them ideal for use in technical applications.
2.Technical Textiles Can be Produced Using Fewer Resources
Traditional textiles require a great deal of resources to grow, procure, and process. Synthetic technical textiles such as acrylic fiber can be produced in-house requiring only common chemical compounds and specialized equipment. Additionally, these textiles can be made to exacting specifications making them ideal for small-batch or custom orders.
3.“Up cycling” of Synthetic Materials Takes Off
Up cycling is the new recycling. Advances in extrusion technology are creating new avenues for old materials. Non-textile products such as polypropylene bags and beer bottles can now be broken into a fine particulate which is then melted and extruded into usable fibers. Processes like these create less waste and reduce the distance required for sourcing of some textile components.
4.Innovations in Textile Dyes Lead to Less Pollution
Dyeing is the most taxing to the environment of any textile-related process. Technical innovations in the way dyes are imbued into fabrics, from “air-dyes” that blast textiles with color to pre-dyed resin applications for composite textiles, reduce the carbon output of the entire process. Additionally, after-dye wastewater is finding new life through innovative processes that remove recalcitrant organic compounds and produce less “sludge.”
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