Organic Clothing Alliance


The Environmental Cost and Impact of Toxic Fashion
Many of us never think about what happens to the clothes we throw away. Toxic and chemical textiles negatively impact and destroy the environment from creation to discard.  


Let's Talk About It!
Manufacturing industries often cause a great deal of damage to the environment through the release of both toxic and nonhazardous wastes. As the damaging effects of chemicals becomes more apparent, our society is demanding cleaner and more efficient production methods. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency details environmental consequences, regulations, and proposed solutions in the Office of Compliance Sector Notebook Project: Profile of the Textile Industry. 

Pollution Outputs Wastewater is one of the largest sources of waste produced by the textile and apparel industries. Because the production of textile and apparel goods requires many different steps, wastewater is produced throughout the manufacturing process. High volumes of wastewater are produced in manufacturing operations such as de-sizing, dyeing, rinsing, printing, bleaching, finishing, and cleaning. In fact, each pound of goods produced can be the source of approximately 15 gallons of waste from dyeing and rinsing processes alone. Facilities that are involved in the dyeing of goods often turn out more than one million gallons of wastewater each day. 

The textile and apparel industries also release waste in the form of air emissions. However, the amount of polluted air produced is relatively small in comparison to other manufacturing industries. Small amounts of waste are emitted at various stages of production, each stage releasing a different type of emission. Due to the high number of manufacturing stages, there are many different types of air pollutants generated by these industries. Because there are so many different components to the emissions of these industries, it is usually difficult to control and measure air pollution. 

Wastewater and air emissions generally receive the most attention from politicians and consumers due to their hazardous nature. Yet, there is another set of nontoxic, residual wastes that results from the production of textiles and apparels. A large amount of fabric waste and other scraps are left over at the end of production. For example, most production methods waste anywhere from 28 to 6 percent of fabric. Furthermore, packaging materials are not always able to be reused or recycled. 

Textile wastewater contains many pollutants including acids, dispersants, alkalis, dyes, heavy metals, organic-chlorines, PBDE, PFOA, phthalates, pigments, salts, and many more. The release of these hazardous materials into public drains (which lead to rivers, streams, and eventually the ocean) alters the pH, and increases BOD and COD levels. The main release of pollution during manufacturing occurs during the dyeing and finishing processes and is released by the manufacturer into nearby local waterways. The waste-water produced is not always biodegradable and often poses severe environmental and health hazards to the community they operate within. 

There are a wide range of mostly organic compounds of complex structure used in the textile dyeing and finishing process. In regards to waste-water dyestuffs may be classified into two groups; those that don’t undergo chemical reactions (acid, basic, direct, disperse, pigment, and solvent), and those that do (reactive, vat, sulphur, azoic). These processes involving reactive chemistry use chemicals that independently are non-toxic, but will react with the other chemicals used in manufacturing to create a third substance which is toxic. This reaction can occur during various stages in the products lifecycle, and can vary greatly dependent not only on the dye compound created, but also on factors such as the fiber choice, fabric structure, or machinery used. “Composite textile waste-water is characterized mainly by measurements of biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) suspended solids (SS), and dissolved solids (DS) 

Industrialization of the textile industry and the use of a large variety of chemical treatments and dyes has resulted in a public health threat created by pollution. 17 -20% of industrial freshwater pollution is caused by textile dyeing and treatment. Estimations state that 10-15% of total dyestuffs (equivalent to 280,000 tons of dyestuffs) used during the manufacturing of textile products is released into the environment worldwide annually. 

Inefficiencies during the dyeing processes result in excess pollutant release and minimizing these inefficiencies has become increasingly important as scientific scrutiny continues to intensify. An example of one such method used to improve the dying process is Vat and sulphur dye waste-water production is greatly minimized during the dying process if electrochemical processes are used in place of chemical reagents. Some companies, such as AirDye®, have created entirely new processes in attempts to minimize wastewater production altogether which require 95% less water usage and emit 84% fewer green house gases.

Environmental Problems: A number of different environmental problems have been caused by the textile and apparel industry. As previously stated, a large amount of wastewater and polluted air is generated during production. A number of other problems arise that are not simply related to the output waste produced. For example, a large amount of water, energy, and other valuable resources are consumed during the production process. 

Additionally, many facilities are not as environmentally sound as they could be due to outdated equipment that is difficult and extremely expensive to replace. Machinery is often very loud and disrupts surrounding communities. Many employees are unqualified for their jobs and lack the training necessary to understand the most efficient way of carrying out an assigned task. Moreover, they do not have the skills needed to improve or recognize harmful practices. The assistance of the government is crucial if this industry is to continually make strides in decreasing waste. However, most businesses are currently limited by the lack of support expended by the government. 

Prevention Methods and Proposals: In order to make significant changes in the wastes generated by textile and apparel manufacturing facilities, several preventative measures must be taken. To begin with, companies should begin to set improved regulations for the raw goods used in manufacturing. Reusable containers should be required, and the use of harmful substances should be limited. Individuals should be employed by company and industry executives to research and develop new ways of producing goods using less harmful chemicals or wholly alternative treatments altogether. Simple improvements can be made by ensuring optimal settings of equipment and the optimal environment for the facility. 

Companies should take every step possible to reduce input amount by recycling as much as possible and by continually updating their equipment. In order to achieve a new level of environmental responsibility, better training programs for employees must be established. The government should become more involved in assisting individual facilities and in the regulations set forth for the industry. Corporations and manufacturers must be encouraged to create "eco" friendly goods. 

The number of people who die in America every year due to air pollution is over 50,000. In the state of California air pollution kills more than 25,000 people per year and costs $200 million worth of medical expenses. 
70% of industrial waste is dumped into water bodies polluting usable water supply. Every year approximately 15 million children under the age of five die because of diseases related to drinking contaminated water.
Keeping textiles out of landfills would save the US economy more than $375 million per year of the $44 per ton fees associated with unloading, dumping and facility transfers. Over one million bushels of garbage is thrown out of car windows by Americans each year.
               AIR POLLUTION                                           WATER POLLUTION                                            LANDFILL WASTE
Can we as humans this makes rational sense?  
Buying clothes because they are cheap to throw away and create landfills to stack up around us, polluting our water, soil and air.
FACT:  11,000-20,000 liters of water is used to create one pair of jeans and 2,700-3,000 gallons to create one t-shirt.
FACT: 35% waste of scrap fabric produced in fashion manufacturing and 30% of the clothes produced in factories is never sold.
FACT: Fast Fashion apparel manufacturing accounts for 10% of carbon output globally.