Articles | In-Depth Analysis | Sustainability | Textile Articles


Published: March 8, 2019

Prerna Kapila and B.S. Dhillon

Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Amritsar

Sustainability is a contemporary, meaningful term and an approach to looking at processes and products. The present consumer tries hard to preserve the environment and the awareness and responsible attitude has done wonders for each and every sector. The textile sector is not the one to be left behind. Organic, green, Sustainable and Eco friendly, these are some of the terms being used commonly to tap the rapidly growing desire among consumers to buy something that causes as little harm to the environment as possible. If eco is a useful general term for fabrics and fashion made from sustainable production and less polluting manufacturing methods, then organic is a much more stringent description requiring certification to international standards, whereas, sustainability or the ability to sustain, may be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs. The main aim of sustainability is to extract the maximum benefits from products by extending their life, before throwing them away. Sustainability has always targeted the idea of dematerialization, converting the linear path of materials (extraction, use, disposal in landfill) to a circular material flow that reuses materials as much as possible, much like the cycling and reuse of waste in nature. Production of textiles takes a toll on the environment by using vital resources like water, land, oil, and also degrades the environment unless suitably managed in the form of dyeing and printing waste water, boiler fuel etc. And it is hardly only the resources which go into production which are responsible for affecting the environment. The wastage of end product in the form of used textiles or damaged textiles is equally responsible. Consumers react to changes in fashion both in clothing and household interior designs. Seasonal changes in fashion mean that clothes can become outdated very quickly, and this encourages the replacement and disposal of outdated, yet good quality garments. Consequently, manufacturers will increasingly develop high quantities of low durability clothing in response to a ‘throwaway society’. Economic prosperity also influences this trend, as the production of textiles increases with consumer spending, so does waste production from both the manufacturing and household sectors.
Every manufactured garment is supposed to have an average life span which is considered to be approximately 3-4 years after which the garment is either considered too old or unfit to be used as it loses its suitability for the purpose or it becomes out of fashion. Almost half of the garments we use in daily life are discarded even before they can be considered unsuitable to be used because of various other reasons like fashion, size or fit issues. The maximum amount of textile waste comes from household sources as the textile waste generated at pre consumer stage or industrial level are usually utilized in one form of the other e.g., cutting waste from garment industry is shredded and utilized as filling in low cost mattresses. The sheer magnitudes of post consumer textile waste make it necessary to look for ways to recycle or reuse the textiles we throw away as wastage. A report suggests that more than fifty percent of the textiles we discard are recyclable but only twenty five per cent of the same is recycled or reused in some form of the other while the rest goes in domestic waste. Recycling not only saves valuable resources used to create the product but also provides low cost raw material for new products which can be made from the recycled material. But the cost involved in recycling acts as a hindrance to wide spread adoption of this technique for creating new products and hence other modes of disposal are usually adopted more frequently.

Textile Waste: Any material of textile origin which is not considered suitable for its end user can be considered textile waste. The end user could be a garment manufacturer, upholstery designer, carpet manufacturer or the final consumer. It could be any industrial waste generated while manufacturing of fibers, yarns, fabrics or garments or the household waste created after usage of garments or textile material by end consumers. Almost all of the industrial wastage and a majority of household wastage are recyclable and disposing of the same as wastage should be our last resort.
Textile waste can be classified as either pre-consumer or post-consumer.
Pre Consumer Textile Waste: The waste which consists of by-products of textile, yarn, fabric or garment production and the one which is generated in the textile supply chain prior to reaching the consumers is considered pre consumer textile waste. This wastage has various usages as raw material in automotive industry, furniture, mattresses, home furnishings, paper and other related industries.
Post Consumer Textile Waste: The textile waste generated at various levels after usage of the finished product by end consumer and could be any clothing or household article which has been discarded or not in use for any reason like being worn out, damaged or outgrown are considered as post consumer textile waste. The majority of this waste comes at household level hence its management is an issue as industrial waste is easy to manage in comparison to household waste.
Management of Textile waste
Textile waste can be managed in a variety of ways quite successfully so that the usage of our resources can be minimized. The main methods used for handling of textile waste are:
1. Reuse
2. Recycle
3. Reclaimed fibers and fabrics
Reusing an item for another purpose instead of the one for which it was produced and initially utilized is a very effective method of textile waste management. Reusing a textile product is always advisable in place of discarding it as it helps save the precious resources. Reuse could be conventional where an item is used for the same purpose as it was initially intended but by a different user or it could be new life reuse where the textile product is utilized for some new purpose. This is an efficient manner to avoid throwing or dumping products in waste stream. Conventional reuse can be seen in distribution of used clothing items through charity organizations. Some supermarkets also launched schemes of purchasing old clothing items from customers and giving the customers relevant discount on new purchases. The used clothing items were further sorted, cleaned and redistributed through charity shops especially during winter season. As per an estimate, over seventy per cent of world’s population uses second hand clothing making it easy to reuse clothing items which are fit to be used as is. As for the rest like the ones which are damaged or torn, and are not wearable, they can be utilized as rags, cleaning clothes, mats etc. at home or industrial level. Reuse of textile material reduces air and noise pollution by saving the raw material resources and processes required for making new items, and saves money on purchase as well as disposal of textile products. Second hand clothing market reuses the largest amount of post consumer textiles.

Recycling is the process by which the material is taken out of a product which has been used up to desired level and this raw material s then utilized to create an entirely new product. As per report of an Environment Protection Agency, ninety seven per cent of the post consumer textile waste is recyclable. Thus if we take a curtain which we are no longer using and utilize the fabric to create a quilt cover, or foot mats, we are recycling the textile material. The original product acts as a raw material here thus helping in reducing the requirement of energy and other resources or fresh raw material for production of new item. It is possible to recycle both natural as well as man-made textiles. It is also possible to recycle a product and creating a similar product as original, intended for same use e.g. re-dying and painting some faded curtains to create a new set of curtains. This process is least expensive and with minimum effect on the environment and is called closed loop recycling.
Recycling of post consumer textile waste has various advantages as it requires less energy and minimum carbon dioxides emissions as compared to any other type of processing. Recycling of synthetic fabric products result in savings in terms of petroleum, energy and reduction in emission of green house gases. This is also more relevant as synthetic textile products are mostly non-biodegradable hence considerable reduction on environment load is achieved. There are various processes used for recycling of post consumer textile waste. Mainly this waste is treated by breaking down the fabric to fiber stage by cutting, shredding, carding and other mechanical processes. This fiber is then used to create an entirely new product. Shoddy is the term used mainly for recycled wool or knitted products and utilized to create low quality blankets and mats, felt fabric or filling mattresses etc. The biodegradable and absorbent cotton fabric can be recycled to make rags, wiping cloth, napkins or foot mats and can also be used to produce new high quality paper thus reducing need of cellulose from wood to create paper. The embroidered or zari patches from old sarees have been traditionally used to create quilts, cushion covers and are still in demand for their aesthetic and rustic appeal and can be a source of income as well. One of the major challenges is to find a market for the recycled products as most of the recycling of post consumer textile waste is done at household level, but today, there are many stores promoting sale of recycled products as an environment friendly gesture.

On a commercial level, recycling involves collection of material from various sources, mainly as donation from individuals, through buy back schemes launched periodically by departmental stores like Big Bazaar, or through door-to-door collection which is quite prevalent in India. Panipat city has a cluster of some 200 firms involved in recycling clothes into yarn and creating various products like blankets, rugs, mats, cushions covers, throws, top sheets etc. But this industry is fast receding due to threat from cheap Chinese cloth flooding the markets which is quite a bad news for environment.
Purchasing recycled fabric completes the loop. Recycling can be done in basically three manners.
1. Thermal Recycling involves using the waste for recovering heat energy which is generated by incinerating the waste material so the thermal energy can be utilized. Though this is a very easy method, it does not actually recycle the resources and only utilizes thermal energy and should be practiced only for that waste which is non recyclable.
2. Material Recycling involves recovering of raw material from the waste and utilizing the raw material to create new products. The latest development in this field is the production of polyester fiber from PET bottles. The recovery of polymers is done to reduce the requirement of raw material for preparing polyester fabric. As certain impurities remain in the degraded polymer solution, at times very bright and clear fabric colours are hard to obtain.
3. Chemical Recycling is done by the process of recovering the monomers from the waste fiber by the process of polymer decomposition and in this process, the impurities can easily be removed and the quality can be similar to virgin polyester monomers.

Reclaimed Fibers and Fabrics:
Reclaiming fibers is a complicated and expensive process and involves mechanical breaking down of fabric till fiber stage. The fabric waste is treated through various means like cutting, rotating in a drum at high speed and breaking down the fabric through pins on these drums and other various processes to breakdown the fabric to its basic unit of fiber. The natural fiber products are mainly reclaimed through this process and can be easily used in non woven fabric preparation or for blending purpose as in the case of wool fibers as the fiber size becomes relatively small in this process and is not suitable for weaving purpose. The man- made fibers are processed through formation of granules by melting process though this is quite similar to material recycling process.
Reclaimed fibers can be made from a wide variety of textile waste and the quality of the end product as well as the process required for its manufacturing depends on the type of waste. If the fabric used for reclaiming was of single fiber content, comparatively better quality reclaimed fibers can be obtained while in the case of blended fabrics, it is difficult to maintain quality and these fibers are mainly used for preparing non woven or low quality fabrics. Yarns made from reclaimed fibers are also grey or of dark colour which are not much suitable for use as garments or household textiles.
Reclaimed fabrics are getting growing acceptance these days especially by the fashion industry due to trends of Zero waste fashion giving the message of preventing fabrics from being wasted but this waste is considered pre consumer textile waste which is being utilized in different ways like preparation of bags and other accessories, wrapping material, pouches and various other related products for common use.
It is an encouraging trend that the world is becoming aware of the waste being generated by our various consumption patterns and consciously taking steps to prevent wastage at various stages. The designers, business organizations as well as nonprofit organizations are coming forward with various ways to tackle the issue of waste management to create sustainable environment for development. The awareness created has also motivated consumers to come forward and contribute in this field and the current trend of recycle and reuse is a welcome step for our environment.

• www.texwaste”net\wasteguide waste – management & history types of waste.htm
• Eisele D. (1996), ‘Reclaimed fibres. Characteristics. Background,’ Melliand Textilberichte, 77, 4, 199–202.
• Mägel M., Mägel M., Bieber B. (1993), ‘First research results to define a number of selected textile-physical parameters of reclaimed fibres,’ Kolloquium Reissfaser ’93, Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut e.V. Chemnitz.
• Fischer H., Rettig D., Harig H. (1999), ‘Image processing to measure the length distribution of reclaimed fibres,’ Melliand Textilberichte, 80, 358–360.
• Bohnhoff A., Petershans J. (2001), ‘Sorting carpets non-centrally,’ 28th Aachen Textile Conference, Aachen, D 28–29 November, DWI Reports, 125 (2002), 242–252.
• Anon. (2001), ‘Infinity and beyond. Carpet recycling,’ International Carpet Bulletin – (ICB) March, 8–10.

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