Reducing the Environmental Impact of a Textile Dye House

A collaborative system that reintegrates manufacturing into product and process development is critical to help the global textile industry emerge as a better steward of our planet, our people, and our products. And, there are many small and incremental steps that can be taken without major capital investments to improve safety and reduce the negative environmental impacts of existing textile manufacturing and wet processing facilities.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • A major negative of supply chain management is that manufacturers have lost their seat at the table for product design & development & are now held hostage by brands.
  • There is no such thing as a zero-waste manufacturing facility.
  • Everything that is added to the process to reduce the processing time has to be accounted for in the effluent stream.
The textile industry continues to experience a paradigm shift where short-term greed and profiteering are more important than the proper care of our planet, our people, and our products.
Paradigm Shift The textile industry continues to experience a paradigm shift where short-term greed and profiteering are more important than the proper care of our planet, our people, and our products. Andrew Martin / Pixabay

Throughout history, textile manufacturing has been the first step in the move from an agronomy-based society (farming) to industrialisation (factory). Textile mills provide entry level factory jobs with regular hours and paychecks that require minimal amounts of education and training. Textile mills have traditionally been located in rural areas with vast supplies of labour and freshwater. In earlier times, the water was used for providing power. Today, vast amounts of water are still used for the wet processing (preparation, dyeing, and finishing) of textile substrates.

Since the mid-1980s, the textile manufacturing industry has witnessed a dramatic shift from local vertically integrated manufacturing to global supply chain management. The difference between manufacturing and management is enormous. What was once a collaborative environment of product design, development, and manufacturing has been transformed into an adversarial and competitive world driven only by lowest cost.

A major negative of supply chain management is that manufacturers have lost their seat at the table for product design and development, and are now held hostage by the brands. Manufacturers are forced to produce whatever the brands develop, at their price, or else.

How we (textile manufacturers) arrived at this embarrassingly low point of trending social media coverage of multicoloured rivers, mountains of dumped apparel, micro-plastic particle pollution, and poor labour conditions should not be a surprise to anyone. We continue to experience a paradigm shift where short-term greed and profiteering are more important than the proper care of our planet, our people, and our products.

Many of the outstanding issues with the global textiles industry are based on old practices and technologies that were acceptable ‘at the time’; however, the times have changed and the old practices are no longer acceptable.

In order to have meaningful and sustainable improvements, everyone (design, development, manufacturing, marketing, and sales) involved with producing a coloured textile product must immediately implement a three-step process. To truly be successful, all the three steps must be addressed simultaneously. We cannot arbitrarily pick only one or two steps and ignore the balance. The improvement process will not be quick, easy, and/or inexpensive.

  • Step 1: Stop using bad practices;
  • Step 2: Acknowledge damage and accept responsibility for repair;
  • Step 3: Move forward with new technology and accepted practices.
All global textile manufacturers must acknowledge and ‘own up’ to the damage done to the environment through the discharge of raw, untreated effluent into neighbouring fields, lakes, streams, rivers, waterways, seas, and oceans; the dumping of unwanted merchandise; and the unsafe use, storage, and disposal of harmful substrates, dyes and chemicals.
Accept Responsibility All global textile manufacturers must acknowledge and ‘own up’ to the damage done to the environment through the discharge of raw, untreated effluent into neighbouring fields, lakes, streams, rivers, waterways, seas, and oceans; the dumping of unwanted merchandise; and the unsafe use, storage, and disposal of harmful substrates, dyes and chemicals. Pexels / Pixabay

Step 1:  Stop using bad practices is self-explanatory. We cannot begin to improve until we stop doing what has caused all of the damage.

We must immediately:

  • Stop the open dumping of untreated liquid effluent.
  • Stop the dumping of unsold and returned merchandise.
  • Stop using of unauthorised, third-party solid waste handlers.
  • Stop using old dyes and chemistries that are damaging to the environment.
  • Stop using inexpensive (low-grade) synthetic fibres simply to reduce the fabric cost.
  • Stop making so much more than we actually need.
  • Stop treating our employees as indentured servants.
  • Stop blaming others, such as foreign competition and government regulations for our problems.
  • Stop issuing press releases fill with pledges and promises without measurable actions.

Step 2:  Acknowledge damage and accept responsibility for repair is where everyone starts to get anxious. All global textile manufacturers must acknowledge and ‘own up’ to the damage done to the environment through the discharge of raw, untreated effluent into neighbouring fields, lakes, streams, rivers, waterways, seas, and oceans; the dumping of unwanted merchandise; and the unsafe use, storage, and disposal of harmful substrates, dyes and chemicals.

Toxic dump sites do not just go away when ignored. There is no such thing as a zero-waste manufacturing facility. Textile manufacturing facilities create a large amount of solid waste. Paper, cardboard, plastic, fabric, metal drums, and buckets are examples of what will accumulate if not properly handled and disposed of. Donating (also known as dumping) your unused and/or returned garments as well as hiring third-party handlers to remove your solid waste in a fancy container to an undisclosed disposal location is not zero-discharge.

We must acknowledge that the excessive use of low-quality petroleum based synthetic fibres contributes to micro-plastic pollution.

We must acknowledge that the working conditions and wages of our employees are poor, unsafe, and unacceptable.

Once we have acknowledged our past and current transgressions, we must then provide the necessary resources of time and money to clean up the many messes we have made.

Step 3: Move forward with new technology and accepted practices must be started immediately; however, the successful implementation of Step 3 is only possible after the completion of Steps 1 and 2.

Everything we do moving forward must be meaningful and not just an improvement to the optics. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ and ‘Not in my backyard’ are not acceptable processing practices.

We must improve the working conditions (safety) of our facilities and provide fair and equitable living wages for all employees.

We must provide for the proper disposal of solid waste as well as the treatment and discharge of liquid effluent. Everything that is added to the process to reduce the processing time has to be accounted for in the effluent stream.

Liquid effluent treatments such as pH and temperature stabilisation can be done internally through the use of holding tanks. Decolourisation requires specialised chemistries and is best handled by a professional wastewater chemist and/or through a proper sewer connection to a local municipality equipped to handle the discharged colour and chemistries.

Having owned and operated a colour development / dyeing facility, I am familiar with the outrageous demands of customers and understand the challenges of keeping planet and people above the pull of ‘low-cost’ supply chain contract manufacturing.

We must develop collaborative manufacturing systems that produce only what is needed when it is needed. Reintegrating manufacturing into product and process development is important for moving forward.

Develop collaborative manufacturing systems that produce only what is needed when it is needed. Reintegrating manufacturing into product and process development is important for moving forward.
Reintegration Matter Develop collaborative manufacturing systems that produce only what is needed when it is needed. Reintegrating manufacturing into product and process development is important for moving forward. Pexels / Pixabay

Going back upstream to product design and development; selecting fibres, substrates, and colours with realistic technical specifications for the final product such as basis weight, strength, dimensional stability, colour (NO, you cannot have 100 new and unique colours every season), colour difference (NO, you cannot have ΔE < 0.5 under all lights), and colour fastness (NO, you cannot have a colour fastness rating of 4.5–5.0 on all tests) will allow the manufacturers to process using improved dyes and chemistries with lower environmental impacts.

Petroleum based synthetic fibres are strong and have many positive applications in weather resistant performance outerwear; however, we do not need to apply tonnes of unnecessary chemicals to improve the hand-feel of low-cost generic products made from inexpensive synthetic fibres.

Designing and building a textile wet processing manufacturing facility is time consuming and expensive. When done properly, the facility and equipment can last for many years. Replacing existing operating equipment with the latest technologies is cost prohibitive and unnecessary; however, the substrates, dyes, and chemistries used in these machines can be replaced quickly and with little added expense.

There are many small and incremental steps that can be taken without major capital investments to improve safety and reduce the negative environmental impacts of existing textile manufacturing and wet processing facilities.

Everyone involved with manufacturing:

  • …can do regular walk-throughs to identify unnecessary clutter and provide for the immediate and proper disposal.
  • …can do regular walk-throughs to identify drips, leaks, and/or puddles of water on the floor, and leaks in compressed air and/or steam lines. And repair them immediately.
  • …must develop a preventive maintenance schedule that includes operation infrastructure such as boilers, hot water systems, air compressors, and processing equipment. Regular maintenance (cleaning, lubrication, and calibration) will improve the safety of the working environment, increase the operational lifespan of equipment, as well as reduce the overall costs of manufacturing.

Combining new textile enzyme technologies with poly-functional fibre reactive dyes is just one way to reduce the volume of water required for processing as well as the negative loading of the effluent stream with large amounts of dissolved solids, alkalinity, and hydrolysed colour.

When the time does come to replace old processing equipment, consider the installation of low liquor dyeing machines with enhanced mechanical action for dyeing coupled with high efficiency extraction and drying devices. The combined improvements in efficiency will reduce the amount of water, dyes, and chemicals required for processing, decrease the volume and loading of the effluent steam, and decrease the amount of energy required for drying.

We must think holistically of the total product from design and development through manufacturing, and not as the sum of random assembled parts.

We must provide the resources and encouragement for the continued research and development of new and environmentally responsible substrates, colourants, chemical auxiliaries, and processes.

And finally, everyone involved in global textile manufacturing can and must improve our practices to be environmentally responsible and thus become better stewards of our planet, our people, and our products.

A major negative of supply chain management is that manufacturers have lost their seat at the table for product design and development, and are now held hostage by the brands. Manufacturers are forced to produce whatever the brands develop, at their price, or else.

Charles W Stewart

Dr Charles W Stewart’s long career in textiles was filled with manufacturing, academia, and technical development, sales, and service. Having recently retired, Stewart continues to expand and share his vast knowledge regarding colour, colourants, and colourisations.

 
 
 
  • Dated posted: 24 January 2023
  • Last modified: 24 January 2023