The extraction of any commercial bast (stem) fibers like hemp, linen, etc uses caustic soda. The manufacturing of viscose fabrics like bamboo, aloe vera, sugarcane, and many more uses hydrogen sulfite. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used in bleaching and converts into water, it is considered to be the most sustainable synthesized chemical. Yet, the lesser-known fact is that the most common manufacturing process for H202 happens with palladium - a very rare and heavy metal that to this day uses child labor.
There are countless synthetic substances used in every part of fabric manufacturing. This includes spinning, dyeing, even certified dyeing and after processes like softening, etc.
All chemicals are not bad, in fact, they are essential for the balance of a healthy ecosystem (even lead and arsenic are present naturally in small quantities in the soil). New-age textile factories should have sustainably sourced chemicals in the form of minerals going in and anything coming out should be suitable for farming purposes. H202 can also be produced through electrolysis (which is costly but a completely safe method) therefore it’s important to address every input from a holistic perspective.
Treating the end water and sludge is an expensive investment. Big industries mainly care for material profits, which means that human and environmental welfare is thrown out the window. To cut corners, dyeing companies have a few standard practices on what to do with these damaging by-products.
Treating the water at an ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) with RO (Reverse Osmosis) system is a common practice in textile industries. RO water purifiers remove the toxic chemicals as well as the alkaline minerals important for human nutrition. This lowers the pH and generates dead water. RO water purifiers are also commonly used in households.
A misleading practice of greenwashing companies is creating “zero-emission” factories, where the water is evaporated. But this option still doesn’t solve the harmful sludge left behind, a ticking time bomb for humanity!
Companies that follow regulation rules take their toxic sludge to “safe” landfills, financed by the taxpayers’ money. Safe landfills just mean depositing the toxic waste far away from the eyes of urban settlements. From there, a considerable amount is transferred to construction companies to form carcinogenic cement blocks that are sold back to the public.
The cheapest option is to wait for the sun to go down and let out the dyed water, along with sludge, into the nearby water bodies. Another one is to drill a borewell and release the output directly into the water table.
All these options are short-term gain but long-term pain for everyone. The textile industry has left a growing number of farmers and landowners devastated with unfertile lands. Whoever has spent time in dyeing clusters* can confirm that no drinking groundwater is remaining there and the radius of the affected area is expanding day by day.
*Clusters - A group of people or things.
"You can’t build a fair and sustainable future on top of someone else’s suffering."
- Elen & Sarah
Designers and brands are the links between manufacturers and consumers. Authentic sustainable fabric producers and natural dyeing companies are counting on designers to educate themselves and use their creativity for innovative end products. Customers have limited information about the fabric-making process and how the textile industry works. They, therefore, put their trust in responsible designers and brands to have done their homework and use only natural products as promoted.
Designers play an important role in sustainable fashion and need to get on the ground and do their research so that they can differentiate between facts and deceiving marketing. People in the industry already know that certificates don’t really guarantee or mean anything anymore and it’s a matter of time before this awareness will reach end customers.