Rapture in the bright or a wallow in the mellow, colors offer an intimate tour of nature. But if you knew the extent of exploit of nature’s splendor from where our inspirations rise, would you still lead it to its doom?
Our materialistic realm is powered by consumption. Clothes that deplete global freshwater resources and pollute water, soil and air seem to be our go to solutions. To meet the evolving, aesthetic needs of a seasonal consumption, textile industry resorts to rigorous dyeing with cheap, synthetic colorants because of their versatility in colors.
Let’s take a closer look at the process of chemical dyeing a fabric.
What is chemical dyeing?
- Dyeing is a chemical reaction between the dye and material which is being dyed. When synthetic dyes (scientifically made with chemicals such as coal tar or petroleum) are utilized on fabrics, it is referred to as chemical dyeing.
- To prevent the dyed material from shedding the color back to the solution, harsher pigment binders (chemicals) are used to obtain wash fastness
- Once dyeing is complete, enormous amount of textile effluents are released into the air and water streams. We are looking at harmful chemicals such as mercury, lead, chromium, benzene, nitrates, acids, sulfur, etc.
It should come as no surprise that in this continued practice of conventional dyeing, environment and people often take a backseat.
How do these dyes affect our ecosystem?
- Severe depletion of global freshwater resources
While the world is headed toward global clean water crisis, where billions of people lack access to water, chemical dyeing being a water intensive process is adding to increased depletion of water tables. Although dry dyeing methods exist, they are not as effective as wet dyeing.
- Toxic chemicals released into water streams
A challenge is any form of dyeing is that large percentage of dye doesn’t bind to the fabric and about 10-15% is often lost as spillage into the wastewater stream. Considering the 400% increase in textile consumption over a decade, wastewater from textile dyeing has been deemed as the most polluting of all the industrial sectors. Since waste water treatment in textile industry is not a thorough process, even after treatment, large, complex chemicals seep into the water that do not decompose easily.
- Aquatic life greatly affected
Dye effluents released into water bodies increase the mineral concentration and this process leads to ‘Eutrophication’. A process where oxygen levels are lowered, and acidity of water is increased that directly inhibits aquatic life survival and affects economies that are dependent on fishing.
- Increased toxicity in soil concentration
Pollution of agricultural fields from the effluent discharge affects fertility of the soil and the nutrient content of the plants that grow on it. It reduces soil’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide thereby leading to increased greenhouse gas percentage in the atmosphere
- Methane emissions from chemically dyed garments:
While textile dye industries release toxic gases such as formeldehydes, sulphur and nitrates into the atmosphere at the time of production, discarded clothes release methane as they sit in landfills. Methane is considered a much more potent greenhouse gas that traps 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
- Impact on reliant communities and workers
Direct inhalation (while working at the factory) could lead to respiratory diseases, or skin and eye irritation. Long term exposure to chemical dyes through food chain (for eg: eating fish from water bodies affected or consuming drinking water) have been found to cause Tuberculosis, cancer, heart diseases and sometimes long-lasting impact as that of gene mutation.
Do we have a way out?
It is easy to underestimate the vigor in individual action, for a sum of it could have a much larger impact that is necessary to drive the change.
As consumers, we have the power to support ethical initiatives where environment and people matter as much as the garment.
We can choose to support brands that use natural dyeing methods using flowers, vegetables, wood and roots or sources available in nature. These colorants are biodegradable in form and their decomposition does not harm the environment or the health of the people behind your clothes.
If you could value a human life, protect water bodies, help aquatic life flourish, prevent soil fertility loss and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, all at once with one conscious purchase, wouldn’t you do it?
Tell us what you think about the increasing consumption patter and ways to draw down the impact on planet and its people.