Tightening the fabric industry's "waste-line"

Managing Fabric Waste

Guest Column by Ashwin Raj

The textile industry is known as one of the biggest polluters on the planet. The industry is reputed to generate 1/5th of the world's industrial water pollution and use 20,000 chemicals, mostly toxic and  carcinogenic, to make clothes. 

Some textile factories alone produce about three billion tons of soot - air pollution that can affect the respiratory system and also other internal organs of a human being. They burn fabric waste by using coal.


Today more than 70% of fabric waste goes into landfills and there are insufficient attempts to recycle or reuse waste fabrics. 

Unfortunately, we find wastage from both small and large scale industries. According to informed sources, India is the country which is reputed to produce fabrics and garments across the world. Fabrics are the third largest source of waste material after paper, plastics and compost.

During a survey in 2015 around 79 billion metric cubics of water was polluted. The process of making a T-shirt is said to consume more than 2000 liters of water which is as much as most adults would drink in 3 years.


Concept of Reuse 

Scroll. in is considered by some to be a leading source of independent news analysis and culture. Here we found a Delhi based fashion studio, a sustainable brand called "Doodlage" which is said to provide the perfect antidote to fast fashion by making chic garments with scraps of waste cloth or fabric. Doodlage is clearly a great initiative that should be adopted or adapted  by every responsible textile industry owner.

According to Doodlage, the fabric waste in the studio is all too precious. Producers collect fresh fabric waste and produce garments out of it. The waste material which comes after production is collected and panelled together to made a new fabric layer which does make another round of production.

 Kriti Tula, co-founder of Doodlage says, "we should not just be concerned about the garment wastes, it should be the production waste we all should be concerned about". Doodlage focuses not just on garments but also produce accessories and other home furnishing products like carpets and rugs etc. These too are made up of waste fabrics.

Micro plastic pollution

Some synthetic materials are used for making clothes like Polyester, Nylon and Lycra are basically made from plastic. Plastic doesn't biodegrade and in the case of synthetic fabrics, tiny pieces of microplastics are generated. These  are most commonly referred to as "microfibres" in fashion. They are thinner than a human hair and often invisible to the naked eye. They are released into the air and our waste water systems and from there into the rivers and oceans.

According to researchers, washing one load of synthetic clothes releases millions of microplastics in the water system. But it is not only washing that causes a problem. In 2020, a study says that polyester garments release microfibers into the air just by being worn. A study in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal estimates that total releases from just wearing polyester clothes is about the same as those from washing.

Once released into the environment, microfibers are like a magnet for organic pollutants and absorb toxic stuff from detergents and fire retardant chemicals they meet in the water systems. Once in the ocean, they are ingested by sea creatures. Larger fishes and whales who mistake these microfibres in between the planktons and they scoop up the plastic along. So eventually these marine animals are eaten by one particular animal in the food chain, humans! Shockingly, a quarter of the seafood we consume contains microplastics.

Zero Waste Generation

Every textile production unit produces 16-20% of fabric wastes and if we convert it into a large scale unit which turns to 1.5 lakh pieces a day producing about 45,000 meters of waste fabrics (that too on a daily basis!)

Some experts study textile mills abroad and they identify simple ways to reduce pollution and cut water, chemical and energy use while saving money. This way the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has introduced clean by design to nearly 200 textile mills and has tracked about 50 of them to qualify the results. NRDC is partnering with the sustainable apparel coalition, which represents more than 30 percent of global clothing manufacturing, from discount retailers to sports labels to high end fashion. 

Ten Best Practices for textile mills to save money and reduce pollution by Clean by Design (CBD)

  • Metering and leak detection

  • Improve boiler efficiency

  • Condensate collection and recovery

  • Maintain steam traps and system

  • Cooling water reuse

  • Improve insulation

  • Process and grey water reuse

  • Recover heat from exhaust gas and heating oil

  • Recover heat from hot water

  • Optimise compressed air






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