Role of Carbon Footprint in Textile and Apparel Industry

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Rena Mehta; Chavi Goyal

Astt. Prof. IIS University, Jaipur; Lecturer NIFT Kangra

The main contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide, which accounts for nearly 80 per cent of emissions from the industrialized countries. Carbon footprint originates from the ecological footprint discussion and is based upon life cycle Assessment (LCA). The carbon footprint reveals how much CO2 in total is emitted along the value chain of a product. It is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product. It is calculated for the time period of a year and expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs emitted. As greenhouse gases produced by human activities accumulate and their concentration increases in the atmosphere, it causes global warming.

Factors behind Textile CO2 Emissions in Textile Industry

There are many reasons that the environmental impact of the textile industry is such a problem.

  • The vast majority of fibers produced are synthetic. These materials, such as petrochemical-based nylon and polyester, and chemical-treated rayon, use massive amounts of energy to create. Not only that, but the chemicals used during the manufacture of these materials end up as toxins polluting the air, soil, and water.
  • Conventional cotton, which makes up the next largest percentage of worldwide fiber production, is also heavily detrimental to the environment. Cotton growth requires intensive use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and water. Cotton manufacturing also requires the heavy use of chemicals and energy.
  • The dyeing and bleaching of fabrics involves chemicals, energy, and huge amounts of water. Approximately one million tons of chemical dyes are used every year.
  • The wet finishing process uses huge amounts of water and energy

The textile industry is a gigantic industry – and it is gigantically polluting. The textile industry uses copious amounts of two things: water and chemicals.  It is the number one industrial polluter of water in the world. Wet treatment of textiles like desizing, prewashing, mercerizing, dyeing, printing etc. includes a lot of chemical applications on the fibers or fabric. Water is used at every stage in fabric manufacturing – to dissolve chemicals to be used in one step, then to wash and rinse out those same chemicals to be ready for the next step. Some fibres need to be bleached with chlorine before dyeing. This causes organo-chlorine compounds to be released, which are very dangerous to the environment. It takes between 10% and 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemicals to produce that fabric. From dyes to transfer agents, around 2000 different varieties of chemicals are used in textile industries.

Despite stringent environmental laws and regulations, the compliance level by the textile industry has not been very satisfactory. Although, with 16 percent of the global population, India’s share of carbon dioxide emissions is only 3.11 percent, yet in one study from the Stockholm Environment Institute it was found that the embodied energy of organic cotton from India was greater than conventionally produced cotton from the USA because the yields are much less in India, requiring more land to grow the same amount, and much of India’s energy is generated by coal.

Strategies to Reduce Carbon Footprint:

The Indian textile industry will need to cover a lot of ground on crucial environmental issues that will impact both competitiveness and bottom line in a regime driven by environmental and sustainability concerns. A worldwide paradigm shift toward cleaner and greener processes is already underway and it can no longer afford to remain a mute spectator if wants to emerge as a significant player in the global market. Only a systematic approach including a continuous improvement process reduces the carbon footprint of textiles. Companies will realize how they can benefit from increasing energy efficiency and thus cutting costs for fuel and electricity. In fact, it can be a triple wins for the textile retailer, supplier and the environment.

Environmental sustainability can be achieved by looking at the full life cycle of our clothing, from the design and materials sourcing process onwards. An individual, nation or organization’s carbon footprint can be measured by undertaking a GHG emissions assessment. All of the energy used at each step of the process needed to create that fabric is known as embodied energy and it is sum total of the energy required to produce the fiber and yarn/ filament as well as to weave those yarns/ filaments into fabric. Beyond fiber production, the dyeing and finishing sector is the largest energy and water consumer in the whole textile chain and has the highest potential for energy and water savings and efficiency improvements. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it, e.g. by technological developments, better process and product management, changed Green Public or Private Procurement (GPP), Carbon capture, consumption strategies, and others. The mitigation of carbon footprints through the development of alternative projects, such as solar or wind energy, or reforestation, represents one way of reducing a carbon footprint and is often known as Carbon Offsetting.

(A)    To create new green paradigm the textile and apparel industry needs to adopt 3R Concept, i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Reduce: Low carbon foot print processes cut costs by reducing waste of raw materials and energy. Water and energy usage reductions by the textile dyeing and finishing sector can help reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. By saving energy and water, the textile industry can not only save a lot of money, but also help to slow down climate change

I.Substituting organic fibers for conventionally grown fibers as it uses less energy, no petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides for production, emits fewer GHG and supports organic farming (which has myriad environmental, social and health benefits). Other “greener” alternatives include organic wool, linen, bamboo, hemp, abaca, soybean fibre, biopolymers and polyester recycled from used clothing.

Natural fibers, in addition to having a smaller carbon footprint in the production of the spun fiber, have the benefit of being able to be degraded by micro-organisms and composted. In this way the fixed CO2 in the fiber will be released and the cycle closed, whereas, Synthetics do not decompose. In spite of that natural fibers also sequester carbon.  Sequestering carbon is the process through which CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (leaves, stems, branches, roots, etc.) and soils

II.The textile industry needs to adopt more energy efficient processes; such as innovative textile chemicals and processing technologies that contribute to eco-efficient processes for textile mills can save costs and help reduce the environmental burden. Some Innovative products with smaller carbon footprints are:

  • Polymer fiber, made with agricultural feedstocks, provides a 30% CO2 reduction while its manufacturing process reduces GHG emissions by 63%, compared to conventional nylon made from petroleum.
  • Polymers fiber products with optimized properties including improved dye ability.
  • Bleaching system that can save up to 40% in energy and water use and reduce cotton loss by 50%.
  • Aftersoaping agent for dyeing can reduce the processing time and water consumption compared to the conventional system.
  • The revolutionary air technology for dyeing requires only one-forth of water and also reduces energy and chemicals consumption.
  • Digital printing, using ink from the dyes, wastes neither fabric nor ink and does not use harmful salts and significantly reduces the environmental footprint.
  • Formaldehyde-free pigment printing system, which ensures “zero add-on” of formaldehyde during production and needs no further treatment.
  • Color Fast Finish, is a one-step-process of textile can reduce the processing time and carbon dioxide emissions.
  • C6-based fluorocarbon finish for stain repellency and release.
  • Innovative machine that applies finishes to fabrics using foam, which conserves water.
  • Industrial enzymes, which are basically proteins, replace harsh chemicals used to remove impurities from the fiber or fabric, which reduces energy costs, water consumption and also improves the feel of the fabric.

III. While effective laundry management has always included a comprehensive effort to contain energy and labor, green initiatives will force the adaptation of technology and business methodologies that will create profound change in the way laundries work. The ultimate goal of a green initiative should be to achieve effective stewardship of natural resources and to work toward carbon neutrality (zero net carbon emission through reduction of emissions and sequestered or offset carbon amounts). For laundry, green chemistry would include elimination of certain detergent/surfactant ingredients such as alkylphenol and ethoxylates, and other chemicals including phosphates, chlorine, carcinogens and/or heavy metals. Alternative bleaches to chlorine include peracetic acid and hydrogenperoxide that, while hazardous, are more biodegradable and therefore considered greener than chlorine. Underscoring the need for careful chemical selection is that hydrogen peroxide requires higher operating temperatures than chlorine. All the pros and cons of chemical selection should be evaluated.

IV.Use of natural light to serve most of its illumination needs, upgrading the lighting systems, installing of heat recovery plants and developed energy efficient in-house weaving and other equipments, efficient use of energy sources to generate water temperature and for the drying and finishing of textiles, as well as environmental control to include facility heating, cooling and lighting, methods for transporting textiles to use areas, as well as those used by the laundry’s labor force to get to and from work should be considered in order to reduced carbon footprint. While outside the laundry operator’s direct control, the electricity/steam source has a substantial impact on the operation’s carbon footprint. Business travel, outsourced activities, the extraction and processing of purchased materials, and the use of sold products and services also have their impact on GHG.

Reuse: Effluents of chemically treated textiles are discharged in water. Treatment of wastewater obtained from chemically treated textiles is a must. Use of chrome mordant dyeing and limiting the emission of copper, chromium and nickel into water reduces impurities in dyes and pigments. Using dyeing carriers with high chlorine content should be evaded. During the process of bleaching, alternative agents that are less or not hazardous can be used.

Households currently throw out 1.17 million tonnes of textiles each year, most of it clothing, which could be recycled or reused. It’s therefore important, whether as designers, retailers or consumers, that we begin to tackle some of these issues that have been highlighted today.

Recycle: The textile and apparel industry should more utilise recycled fibers. The environmental impact of recycling worn-out polyester or cotton waste into new polyester or cotton fiber respectively, for instance, is significantly lower than making that same fiber a new. A wide range of innovative, sustainable clothing can be made from recycled textiles. We should take care of the ways to combat ‘fast-fashion’ and to reduce its negative environmental impact as the issues of textile recycling, cheap clothing or “throwaway fashion’ affects us all.

  • Eco Circle environmentally friendly closed-loop recycling system chemically converts used polyester products into new polyester raw materials. The reclaimed polyester is of purity comparable to virgin fibers, but the system reduces energy consumption by 84% and CO2 emissions by 77%. Recycled polyester products include Ecopet polyester fiber made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, Eco Circle fibers and recycled polyester fiber recreated from used clothing and uniforms.
  • Rayon, which is produced from wood pulp, seems to be an attractive option, but the manufacturing process still consumes large quantities of energy and creates significant amounts of wood waste. Introduced in the early 1990s, Lyocell is also made from wood fiber (harvested from tree farms). It is biodegradable and recyclable, and the production process is more sustainable and includes recovery of most chemicals.
  • Ingeo fiber is the first man-made fiber from 100% annually renewable plant sugars, is supplied into apparel, home textile, and increasingly the personal care & hygiene (nonwovens) markets.

(B) Development of Standards and Labels:

  • The Global Recycle Standard: This  brand new standard was developed to help verify claims regarding recycled products.  The Gold level requires products to contain 95 – 100% recycled material; Silver requires 70 – 95% and Bronze contains a minimum of 30%.  The definition of “recycled” under this standard is based on criteria already laid down by Scientific Certification Systems.  In addition,  the standard contains environmental processing criteria and strick raw material specification (water treatment and chemical use is based on GOTS and Oeko-Tex 100)  and social responsibility is incorporated – which ensures workers health and safety and upholds workers  rights  in accordance with International Labor Organisation (ILO) criteria.

  • In the K., the Carbon Trust, working with Continental Clothing, has developed the world’s first carbon label for clothing.  The new label will provide the carbon footprint of the garment, from raw materials and  manufacture to use and disposal.

carbon footprint label

  • There exist several third party certifications which we think every conscious consumer of fabric should be aware.  We  should all know what the certification does – and doesn’t – cover.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)  is a tool for an international understanding of environmentally friendly production systems and social accountability in the textile sector. It covers the production, processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, exportation, importation and distribution of all natural fibers. That means, for example: use of certified organic fibers, prohibition of all GMOs and their derivatives and prohibition of a long list of synthetic chemicals. Formaldehyde and aromatic solvents are prohibited; dyestuffs must meet strict requirements (i.e.: threshold limits for heavy metals, no AZO colorants or aromatic amines); and PVC cannot be used for packaging. A fabric that is produced to the GOTS standards is more than just the fabric. It’s a promise to keep our air and water pure and our soils renewed; it’s a fabric, which will not cause harm to you or your descendants. An organic fiber fabric processed to GOTS standards is the most responsible choice possible in terms of stewardship of the earth, preserving health, limiting toxicity the load to humans and animals, reducing one’s carbon footprint – and emphasizing rudimentary social justice issues such as no child labor.

Cradle to Cradle (C2C)’s minimum requirement for certification is that a product be 67% recyclable or biodegradeable. Oeko-Tex, GreenGuard and SMART (Sustainable Materials Rating Technology) are some other examples of these certifications.

(C)  Educate Consumers to Change Attitude: Consumer education about the huge carbon footprint mainstream textiles have and to help inspire consumers to change their habits is a must. It also assists in changing consumer attitudes. Their inclination towards “organic fabrics” not simply fabric made from organic fibers; eco-friendly fibers, not cotton or synthetics; minimizing purchase of fabrics that are blends of natural and synthetic fibers (i.e., cotton and polyester), or blends of two or more different synthetic fibers (polyester and acrylic), because there is no hope of recycling these fabrics right now; Search for a fabric or product that is certified by any third party, independent textile certification agency – GOTS, SMART, C2C, etc.; paying attention to the carbon footprint of the fabrics they buy; Keeping themselves educated on the progress of the eco-textile community – are few of the steps that will truly reduce carbon footprint of textile and apparel industry. To maintain and grow their customer base of this new generation of environmental and ethically aware consumers, retailers in particular are pushing sustainability requirements back down their global supply chains.

(D) Low-carbon manufacturing programmes and carbon accounting in factories, carbon footprint calculation projects, benchmarking energy consumption across the textile and apparel supply chain are few of the strategic measures required to reduce carbon footprint of textile and apparel industry in India.

Conclusion:

The global textile industry has taken several strides towards reducing its carbon footprint and meeting the challenges of building a more sustainable future. At the same time there is a growing awareness of environmental issues among consumers who are increasingly now increasingly insisting on textile products complying with environmental standards. These complementary trends will hopefully continue to drive the industry toward offering the consumer products that are not only red, blue, white etc. but also green.

Beyond fiber production, the dyeing and finishing sector is the largest energy and water consumer in the whole textile chain and has the highest potential for energy and water savings and efficiency improvements. Action is needed, but the industry cannot do it alone. National and multinational governments should support the industry with incentive plans to change old technology with modern equipment.

References:

  • https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/ carbon_credit.asp#axzz1sqTy0KQF on May 15, 2012.
  • Emerging Issues in Apparel Trade, Sustainable Development and Carbon Neutrality Report, Apparel Export Promotion Council, Retrieved from www.aepcindia.in.
  • UK Launches First Carbon Footprint Label for Retail Clothing.” (Environmental Leader, March 27, 2009) <https://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/03/27/uk-launches-first-carbon-footprint-label-for-retail-clothing.
  • Market Emerging for Green Textile Chemicals.” (Sustainable Plastics) <https://www.sustainableplastics.org/news/market-emerging-green-textile-chemicals.