Textile is one of the oldest industries on the face of this world. It is as old as human civilization and is growing every other day. Textile products are a basic human requirement next to food. Textile production comprises of cotton, cotton yarn, cotton fabric, fabric processing (Grey-dyed-printed), home Textiles, towels, hosiery & knitwear and readymade garments.

The relocation of the production due to globalization has created additional level of complexity for sustainable textile production, as different nations have different environmental laws-or even none at all. To secure a “clean” production by manufacturers, trade and brands around the world refer to the Restricted Substance List (RSL). Increasing prices of raw materials due to scarce availability of resources and active environmental protection are the challenges faced by a future-driven textile industry.

Chemicals usage in the fiber to fashion chain

Chemicals either Restricted or banned

1:  Pesticides

2: Allergenic disperse dyes and Banned amines

3: Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates like Nonyl Phenol Ethoxylate

4: Heavy Metals such as Cadmium, Mercury, Lead, Cr 6+

5: Phthalates like Di butyl Phthalate – Di ethyl Hexyl Phthalate

6: Organo tin compounds like Di butyl tin

7:  Flame retardants like Poly brominated di phenyl ether

8: Chlorinated hydrocarbons

9: Chlorinated Phenols like Pentachlorophenol

10: Short chain chlorinated paraffins

11: PFOS/PFOA like Perflorinated compounds

Textile producers can remain competitive by responding to recent technological developments and advancements. In recent years, the increasingly stringent environmental regulations including those for textile products have begun to cause impacts on international trade, in particular trade in textiles. As a highly polluting sector, pollution problems during the textile production (in particular in the processes of dyeing, printing and rectifying) and harmful residues in the finished products have aroused great public concerns. To deal with these problems, some countries have established various environmental standards and requirements for textile products.

The number of demanding and critical consumers requesting transparent value chains and high-quality, harmless and environmentally safe products is constantly growing. This is a challenge that future-driven businesses have to accept before authorities force them into a new way of thinking.

Worldwide there is concern at the continuing release of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the environment. These chemical substances are transported across international boundaries far from their sources and they persist in the environment, bio accumulates through the food web, and poses risk to human health and the environment. The textile industry is a major manufacturing industry and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. It is no longer adequate to have a finished product to be safe only to human beings, but the product has to be environmentally safe during its entire life cycle and even beyond.  Environmental technology or green technology or clean technology is the application of the environmental science and green chemistry to conserve the natural environment and resources and to curb the negative impacts of human involvement.  International concern over environmental issue such as Global warming and expanding population has led to international targets to limit pollution and the use of resources.  Certain sections of the textile industry, wet processing in particular, engage in practices that may have significant environmental impact. Consequently the industry will be affected by legislation intended to reduce environmental degradation by the imposition of discharge limits or by the use of financial instruments such as the polluter pays principle that is environmental taxation. Currently there is concern over the release of endocrine disrupting substances as well as color in to the environment.

With increasing international trade competition and globalization of environmental issues, the issue of environment has become one of high concerns for the international community.  The WTO – Committee on Trade and Environment – established in 1995, was mandated to address issues such  to coordinate the relationship between environment related trade measures and trade related environmental measures to enhance sustainable development, impacts of environmental measures on market access, in particular on the developing countries. Although there was no special agreement on environmental issues, environmental issues were covered in the basic WTO/GATT principles and other related agreements.

The new WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) is:

1: Recognizing that no country should be prevented from taking necessary steps to ensure quality of its exports or for the protection of deceptive practices.

2: Recognizing that the contribution which international standardization can make to the transfer of technology from developed to developing countries.

3: Recognizing that the developing countries may encounter difficulties in the formulation and application of technical regulation and standards and procedures for assessment of conformity with technical regulations and standards and desiring to assist them in their endeavors in this regards.

The non tariff trade barriers recognize the following three important parameters:

Product and process standards: Refers to the quality and specification of particular product and processes

Social accountability: Pertains to the responsibility of producers of textiles to provide social protection to workers including hygiene at the workplace, proper working environment etc

Environment: Probably the broadest area imposing restrictions on processes and certain intermediate processing products which are detrimental to the overall environment

In addition to the mandatory laws and regulations, there are several eco labeling standards concerning textile and clothing products in many European countries. Although voluntary in nature, eco labeling has potential impacts on international trade, particularly in the textile sector. Since the enactment of the German Act and its implementation on 1 April 1996, it has aroused great attention in many countries, particularly in some European countries and many developing countries. The most well known are Milieukeur  and Oeko-Tex Standard 100. The German Act of 1994 forbidding azo dyes and some eco labeling standards for textiles such as Oeko-Tex Standards 100 are the ones that have the most trade implications. They have had both positive and negative impacts on the world textile trade, imposing a great challenge for textile exports from developing countries.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has established and presides over thousands of standards affecting thousands of industries. The textile industry is one such industry. There are hundreds of individual ISO textile standards which govern the handling and production of textiles internationally.

Following are some major certifications:

ISO 9001/2000 ISO 14001

ISO 17799/BS 7799/BS 15000

OHSAS 18001

SA 8000



Oeko-Tex 100

EU Eco-Label for Textiles

Textile products and accessories which can be certified are:



Grey fabric

Finished fabric

Buttons and zippers

Finished garments




For babies, who are most sensitive to exposure to chemicals, the limits are the strictest. For interior Textiles on the contrary, the limits are less strict since people are not directly and for a long time in contact with such fabrics.

Resource materials that are endorsed with a label that is used specifically to communicate the special characteristics related to environment are called Environment labels. International organizations have developed many such labels to communicate the various quality aspects of textiles.  With consumers becoming more concerned with the adverse impacts of industrial pollution on the environment and their health and mounting pressure on industry to adopt more Eco-friendly chemicals and manufacturing processes has led to an increase demand in the textile sector. Eco-labels that certify the Eco-friendliness of the textile product are now increasingly demanded by consumers. While this will certify that their products do not contain chemicals that might be harmful to the consumer, the requirement for an eco-label is not uniform around the world. With the removal of tariff barriers under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Tariff and Trade exporters may increasingly face more stringent environmental standards in the international marketplace. Manufacturers wishing to protect their existing markets and expand into new ones may well be required to obtain an eco-label that is acceptable to customer.


An eco-label provides brief information on environment related product qualities. It enables consumers to identify those products that are environmentally safe; that has been manufactured using Eco-friendly materials and do not contain chemicals that are harmful to the user.


These can be briefly summarized as follows:

Enhanced export market opportunities – manufacturers and retailers of textile goods come under pressure to comply with the international Eco-labels.

Improved product quality – through the removal of substances in the fabric that may be harmful to the customer.

Financial savings – through process optimization and improvements that result in saving of water, chemicals and energy. Frequently, the processing time is reduced and the RFT (Right First Time) is improved. These benefits generally offset the incremental costs of using Eco friendly chemicals or of adopting a modified process.

Improved environmental performance through phasing out of toxic and hazardous substances and conservation in water, energy and raw material usage. This leads to a reduction in the quantities and pollution potential of various emissions. Elimination of hazardous chemicals from the textile manufacturing process is also beneficial for the environment. For example, complete phasing out of sodium hypochlorite and the anti chlor agent – sodium bi sulphite – results in the elimination of halogenated organic compounds {AOX}and a reduction of total dissolved solids {TDS} in the effluent. The removal of these hazardous chemicals result in safer and better working conditions in the workplace.

Different Labels:

Organic labels

Eco labels

Fair trade labels

Health related labels

Limitations of Labels: The review of the criteria of the different eco labeling schemes shows that it is possible to use the eco label criteria to set environmental baseline requirements for textile products, but the criteria can be on standalone basis. Even though the dissemination of the labeling schemes can be used as some indication of how strict the criteria of the different labels are, it is still necessary to be in possession of some knowledge about which criteria that are difficult to comply with. Eco label criteria together with some knowledge about the level of   chemicals will prove to be a useful cocktail in the process of setting environmental baseline criteria for textiles.

Textiles which are produced – processed – and disposed of with the technology and the process which have less harmful effect on ecology and environment and are less harmful effects when used can be classified as Eco Friendly Textiles. The way to a healthy textile future can only be via safe technology, sustainable handling of resources and effective consumer protection. This is no dream path, but rather a way which one must take and adhere to with determined conviction.

Reference :  Colourage – August 2012

Author: Mr. Shivram Krishnan