C.N.Sivaramakrishnan, BSc in Tech, C Col FSDC (Chartered Colourist)

Environmental issues are increasingly playing an important role in the textile industry, both from the point of view of government regulations and consumer expectations. All products and services have certain life cycles. The life cycle refers to the period from the product’s raw material phase through to finished product’s first launch into the market until its final withdrawal. Although textile sector is one of the biggest consumer intensive sector, recycling and reclamation practices are not given much importance. Hence, Life cycle analysis {LCA} needs to be carried out. LCA explains in detail the waste potential, energy usage and environmental effects of each stage to address Green House Gas Emissions (GHG). Industry needs to review ways of achieving more sustainable materials and technologies as well as improving recycling.

The LCA is a study with system expansion methodology, where the use stage is excluded thus providing a reliable measurement of a number of parameters related to production of harmful substances on textiles. The LCA method is used for assessing the environmental impacts of a product from “cradle-to-grave”. The methodology was developed and harmonized in the 1990s. A life-cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life-cycle analysis, eco-balance and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from-cradle-to-grave (i.e., from raw material extraction through material processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). The procedures of life cycle assessment (LCA) are part of the ISO 14000 environmental management standards: in ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006. (ISO 14044 replaced earlier versions of ISO 14041 to ISO 14043.)

LCA can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases
  • Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases
  • Interpreting the results to help you make a more informed decision

The goal of LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services in order to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions. There are two main types of LCA:

  • Attributional LCAs seek to establish the burdens associated with the production and use of a product, or with a specific service or process, at a point in time (typically the recent past).
  • Consequential LCAs seek to identify the environmental consequences of a decision or a proposed change in a system under study (oriented to the future), which means that market and economic implications of a decision may have to be taken into account.
  • Social LCA is under development as a different approach to life cycle thinking intended to assess social implications or potential impacts. Social LCA should be considered as an approach that is complementary to environmental LCA.

LCA Calculator: There are dedicated LCA software packages available. Software is important given the complexity of LCA studies required. It is equally important to determine the software required and due to different legal frameworks in the European Union & in the US, some software features that can be used in EU many not function in other countries. LCA can evaluate the system-wide effects of product and process design options. Software development is streamlining and reducing the cost of life cycle assessments in the textile industry.

 Textile LCA diagram

The below flow chart highlights that at every step from raw material to end use there is wastage and huge energy consumption. Below chart represents synthetic textiles. However natural textiles doesn’t vary much  as only the 1st two highlighted in blue are replaced by (i) Farming & Harvesting (ii) Ginning & spinning + Knitting & weaving.

Synthetic Textile LCA Diagram. Courtesy: www.brs.orgLCA is an analysis of textiles in which the energy, raw material consumption, different types of emissions, { water, air and noise}are measured, analyzed and computed over the entire life cycle from an environmental point of view. It allows comparison of all bio geophysical effects of products and services and informing a design process to lessen negative impacts. To understand the environmental impact of textiles we need to examine their complete life-cycle, which includes growing and processing the fiber, manufacturing the yarn, manufacturing the fabric, dyeing and finishing and making the final product, maintaining the product during use and disposal or recycling. The main wastes from the dyeing process are contaminated water from dyeing, rinsing and washing baths and from dyeing chemicals. Energy is consumed when heating the dye baths and running pumps and other parts of the dyeing machinery. For example, Cold-pad batch dyeing for cotton for example impacts less on the environment than traditional methods. Cold pad batch process uses 35% less energy, 50% water and requires fewer chemicals and produces less effluent. By adopting cleaner production technologies & recycling techniques, energy savings can be achieved which will have direct impact on LCA. The following are some of the examples: Solar tracking mirrors on the roof to reflect light to the work floor below. Exhaust fans that remove all the stale air out of the building Insulation Window glazing Sunscreens Recycled materials Energy efficient lighting systems Radiant heating system 100% recycled polyester PET carpet 100% recycled plastic restroom counter tops. Another example is replacing chlorinated solvents with eco friendly solvents in scouring and stain removing formulations, resulting safer and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. Textile processing can be automated using auto dosing systems at various stages there by minimizing chemical consumption and waste and making extensive use of process of heat recovery wherever possible. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can be managed by computer programmed to adjust temperatures during shut downs, resulting in significant reduction in electric and gas consumption.
The total environmental impact using the life cycle analysis of the final consumer product as an ecological evaluation tool rests on three key elements Sound science, Life cycle assessment and product durability. Environmental considerations should begin at the early stage with the application of sound science and product development. Innovative techniques lead to controlling material content while maximizing product durability and value to the end user. This often results in improved environmental foot print. The second stage is collecting ecological data on all stages of life cycle of the product beginning with the raw material through the final disposal. LCA methodology takes in to account all relevant aspects of the ecological foot print including resource and energy consumption, emission to air, water and land, health and eco systems and more. This is particularly important when comparing different product options or process changes side by side. An example would be where a production process could be introduced that appear to offer energy savings, but because the proposed changes does not include emission controls that consume energy the choice may actually result in higher air and water pollution, hence portfolios of test methods, process


innovations and standards are to be designed to ensure product performance and durability.. It is also seen that recycled and renewable based materials will have a positive impact on the life cycle of textile fabrics, not compromising on quality and to provide durability.

LCA is still evolving as a methodology. However, the principles behind LCA thinking are being adopted rapidly by manufacturers and service organizations alike as a way of opening new perspectives and expanding the debate over environmentally sound products and processes. The goal of LCA is not to arrive at the answer but, rather, to provide important inputs to a broader strategic planning process.