Simple changes for environmental and cost benefits in textiles

Article by Amanda Jasi

ONE-OFF investment in wet processors for simple, practical improvements could lower environmental impact and operating costs for textiles production, potentially saving the industry US$6.1bn/y, according to a new report.

Wet processing involves treating textile substrate with colourants and/or chemicals, and is used to add maximum value by improving aesthetics, comfort, and functional properties. Wet processors have the largest environmental impact on the textiles, apparel, and clothing supply chain due to high energy, chemical, and water use.

Easy (Un)pickings outlines the benefits seen after an average investment of US$455,000 per facility was made in 67 facilities in China and Taiwan, to lower their environmental footprint. The report was produced by thinktank Planet Tracker in collaboration with the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii), a collaborative of fashion brands, manufacturers, and industry associations taking action towards sustainability.

The report identifies ten key best practices to realise benefits, including reusing cooling-,  process- and wastewater, recovering heat from hot water, improving boiler efficiency, improving insulation, and recovering heat from exhaust gas and heating oil.

It highlights additional improvements that could be made in energy efficiency and water and chemistry, such as: implementing energy saving equipment such as tank covers or hoods, and automatic valves; temperature control; and investing in education of management around process changes and water and chemicals policy.

Investing in these changes across the 67 facilities led to average annual water savings of 11.5% and 10.8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as average annual cost savings of US$369,500. The report says industry could save US$6.1bn/y, and the present-day value of these savings could be more than US$25bn.

According to the report, beneficial changes are slow to be implemented due to a lack of knowledge and expertise, funding, and pressure from regulators and customers. The report also highlights a lack of understanding about potential savings.

It calls for actions from investors including actively investing in the supply chain of textile producers, continuing to apply pressure to brands to achieve transparency and push for supply chain improvements, and seeking partners such as Aii to help aid external investment opportunities. Addressing companies and brands, it calls for funding to transition and improve wet processing companies, cultivating relationships with suppliers to allow them to secure financing, and pushing for active and consistent environmental transparency from their own operations as well as those of their suppliers.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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