WATER – OUR RESPONSIBILITY
LIFE DEPENDS ON WATER
Of all the water that exists on our planet, roughly 97% is saltwater and less than 3% is freshwater. Most of Earth’s freshwater is frozen in glaciers, ice caps, or is deep underground in aquifers. Less than 1% of Earth’s water is freshwater that is easily accessible to us to meet our needs, and most of that water is replenished by precipitation—a vital component of the water cycle, affecting every living thing on Earth. Source
In an exponentially growing world, developmentally stable economies and its business leaders are faced with the difficult task of determining how to view our consumption of life’s most precious resource: what happens when the limits of its usage are reached? As interconnected pressures faced by humanity increase, it is impossible to ignore the resulting devastation often hitting those in vulnerable situations the hardest through the impacts on water.
There are approximately 900M people without access to safe drinking water; more than the combined populations of the United States, Brazil, Japan, German, France and Italy. Resulting in 3.575 million deaths each year. Source
Hope is not lost as water pollution has decreased in recent years, but industry pollution continues to increase. After food retail/agriculture, the textile industry consumes the greatest amount of water. In India alone, textiles consume 425,000,000 gallons of water daily. Traditionally, it takes 500 gallons of water in the production of just one pair of jeans Source
EFFECTS OF THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY
The textiles industry is one of the largest industries in the world. Its supply-chain includes agriculture, manufacturing, processing, fabric care, use, recycling and disposal. Nearly all countries are involved in the textile industry though the actual involvement can vary from textile and product design and development of manufacturing technologies, to actual production and shipping to numerous locations. However all countries face the growing problem of textile waste management directly linked to unsustainable textile production and use. Source
While the majority of the United States and Europe do not lack fresh water, the same cannot be said regarding large parts of North Africa, India or China which do suffer from the shortage of fresh water, sometimes as a result of pollution. This fact leads to the next aspect: The total consumption of water is important, but it is even more important to view consumption within the regional context (water quality, water shortages, regulation, perceptions/image of water). Rinsing cotton with fresh water – a high-water consuming process – in regions with few water resources while the local people die of thirst is a questionable practice – whereas rinsing it with only natural rainwater might already be a better solution.
There are also other, less water-demanding options and alternatives like using hemp or man-made fibers. While having a look at the different factors, this should be kept in mind, as sourcing does have a significant impact on water.
The water footprint can be measured for three components: green and blue water footprint measure water quantity grey water footprint measures water quality.
Green water footprint: volume of rainwater evaporated or incorporated into product. The green water footprint occurs when rainfed crops are grown. This tells us how much green water – rainfall stored in the soil as moisture or temporarily staying on top of the soil or plants – is consumed (evapotranspired) on the farm during the growing season.
Blue water footprint: volume of surface or groundwater evaporated or incorporated into product, lost return flow—occuring when irrigation is used on a farm. The blue water footprint tells us how much blue water – fresh water from rivers, lakes or groundwater – is consumed (evapotranspired) on the farm during a growing season.
Grey water footprint: volume of water needed to meet water quality standards—occuring when fertilisers and/or pesticides are used on a farm and runoff or leach into surface or groundwater. The grey water footprint is the volume of fresh water required to be present in the surface or groundwater if ambient water quality standards are to be met, given the amount of pollution that has come from the farm field into the freshwater resource.
TEXTILE PRODUCTION USING LESS WATER
Water is important in textile production. How much water is needed mainly depends on factors such as the raw material used, the pretreatment dyeing, and the finishing processes.
Some processes are the same for the production of every textile:
- Plants/natural fibers as cotton, hemp and wood consume water.
- Whether natural or man-made, textiles need to be pretreated (e.g. bleached) before being dyed to achieve a good color result. Special finishes as HeiQ Dyefast (See Concepts III – Booth 415) can also help to reduce the amount of water required during pretreatment (source).
- Mainly knitted textiles (woven only partly) need to be washed because residues from the knitting process like oils, waxes and silicone preparations need to be rinsed out. Generally, fabrics at this stage can only profit by cleaning for a better color result in the next step: Dyeing. The wastewater from dyeing can concentrate huge amounts of chemicals.
While the term “water-free” or “dyed without water” might be true for dyeing technologies, water is still needed for the entire textile manufacturing process. According to the World Bank, as much as 20% of the water pollution can be traced back to the coloring and finishing of textiles. Source
LESS WATER DURING DYEING
Post-Weaving / Knitting: Piece-Dyed
In the conventional process, the yarn or fabric is first produced and then dyed. For a fabric with a uniform color, piece dyed tends to be the preferred method because it is easier to achieve a uniform color. The entire surface of the fabric is exposed to the dye bath in the same way. With a decent dyeing process and yarns with a uniform affinity for the dye, a very uniform color is relatively easy to achieve. Also, typical piece dyeing equipment can dye a larger batch at the same time, and they are less complex than yarn dyeing equipment (i.e. cheaper).
Pre-Weaving / Knitting: Yarn-dyed
Yarns that are dyed into specific colors before being woven into a design. The design becomes part of the fabric, taking additional time, planning, and engineering to achieve a particular design. See Giant Textile Enterprise Co. Ltd (Booth #224)
Color can already be melted into man-made polymer fibers during the yarn production long before they are woven or knitted. While man-made fiber yarns like polyester, polyamide, polypropylene or viscose/rayon are still in liquid form, the dyes (and/or pigment) is added before pressing through an extruder/spinnerets that determines the cross-section. The method is not applicable for natural fibres, as they are already harvested as solids from their source. They remain to be colored differently (piece-dyeing or printed). See e.dye (booth 201)
Pre-Weaving / Knitting: Solution-, Dope & Spun-dyed
During dyeing methods as spin-dyeing, it might be necessary to work with solution or dope. As the names imply, a solution or dope is required in the dying process. Both result in fibers that are fully saturated in a one-step process. The solution or dope activates the color to connect with the fiber. Spun-dye refers to natural colors and dyestuff being implemented by an ultrasonic process before the yarn is spun. It is mostly used for natural fibers like cotton, tencel etc.
Pre-Weaving / Knitting: Solution-Dyed Chromuch
The producer determines whether pigment, solvent dyes/liquid colorant/dyestuff or some combination is used. Pigments do offer excellent color fastness results above grade 4, under temperatures of 190°C, but the colors might often be dull and the range of pigments is limited. Other types of dyestuff often experience color migration problems, especially under heat although the color palette is wide and the colors are brilliant.
Nan Ya Plastic (Booth #134) uses solution-dyeing with both pigments and dyestuffs in their product called Chromuch. The migration problem is solved and most of the neon (brilliant and deep) colors can be achieved with excellent color fastness according to Nan Ya Plastic.
PRE- & POST-WEAVING/KNITTING: DYECOO
Dyecoo has developed a process that uses hypercritical (or supercritical) CO2 instead of liquid water as in the conventional process. The technology is restricted to polyester and disperse dyes as well as works on the basis of pigments and can be applied to the yarn (pre-weaving/knitting) or to the fabric (post-weaving/knitting)
Color is applied directly with water or steam (so even less water) depending on the printing machine and selected dyestuff. Normally the ink is liquid, but there are also technologies using ink powder (InkPresso) that is liquefied by the print machine during production. The huge advantage of digital printing in general: It does not need any minimum quantities – exactly the required quantity can be produced (instead of a minimum quantity).
The technology has improved in recent years becoming less expensive and faster – printing can be a real option to consume less water, produce less waste, and reduce costs.
Similar to printing, the dye stuff is applied to the surface of the fabric. Spray-dyeing is not meant to produce uni-colored fabrics, but effects and colorful eyecatchers. The color is sprayed as a liquid (so with little water content) and does not require the addition of water as needed in piece-dyeing. Therefore, it can be considered as a low water consumption process.
END-USER / CONSUMER
The water footprint does not end with the production of a garment. Some refer to washing as the internal water footprint. Most high-efficiency washers use only 15 to 30 gallons (56.8 to 113.6 L) of water to wash the same amount of clothes as older washers (29 to 45 gallons per load (109.7 to 170 L). The most efficient washers use less than 5 gallons (18.9 L) per cubic foot of capacity. (source: https://www.home-water-works.org/indoor-use/clothes-washer)
Depending on the fiber, the water footprint for household washing versus the water footprint for fabric production including dyeing can be either a small or a large percentage. Although the washing frequency is an individual decision made by the consumer because of dirt, bad odor, hygienic reasons or simply the psychological habit of washing clothes after (just one) use, the internal water footprint is often excessive. According to Polygiene (Booth #117), up to 54% of the water use occurs during consumer use. Bad odor - the result of bacteria eating the sweat – can be easily minimized by special treatments that are implemented in the yarn, fabric or garment surface. Polygiene uses a technology based on silver salts, while other producers use minerals or menthol.
See: Rih Jan Fibre Industrial Co., Ltd. (Booth #311)
HOW WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Ensure the use of more sustainable materials. This may include:
- Using materials that last longer
- Using materials that can be recycled (closing the loop of a life cycle)
Develop materials that deliver the same performance but require less resources. A fabric of the same material that is lighter, but keeps you as warm as the heavier version can also reduce the ecological footprint.
Construct yarns that have less/no fiber-loss brushed fabrics and fleeces are suspected to lose more fibers than un-brushed ones. Polartec (Booth #229) follows the approach to minimize shedding.
Develop fibres that are biodegradable, not only in industrial composting plants, but also under environmental conditions.
- IMPORTANT: Biodegradation should not mean fragmentation into microplastics (=oxo-degradation), BUT biodegradation into water, CO2, methane, and biomass/minerals ONLY (source). PrimaLoft (Booth #341) for example, states to have developed an insulation that is made of 100% recycled materials and degrades to water, methane, carbon dioxide and biomass only (marine environment testings are in progress).
Optimize household washing: Less frequent washing – avoid top-loader washing machines – wash only if the drum is full, as a half-empty machine leads to more friction between the clothes and the wash drum creating more fiber-loss while the amount of water remains the same.
Reduce fiber-release during consumer phase – especially during washing (e.g. use washing machines that are able to filter micro particles). Fiber-catching balls or nets that are helpful to reduce the microfiber emission are still being tested.
Avoid sewage sludge that is used as fertilizer in agriculture and micro plastics thereby returning into the water supply. Thermo-recycling/burning of the sewage sludge could help.
Support initiatives to clean the environment from waste.