THE SIX MOST IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS THAT COMPANIES IN THE TEXTILE SECTOR SHOULD SEEK TO REDUCE

by Beatriz Domenech

SUSTAINABILITY AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

11th May 2021

The environmental impact of the textile sector has become one of today’s most worrying issues. The huge amounts of waste created, coupled with a low recycling rate (only 1% is transformed into new garments) is one of the critical aspects in the production process of companies in the textile value chain. Likewise, the vast amounts of water and chemicals consumed, the emission of microplastics and the emission of greenhouse gases, together with the aforementioned, urgently require new technological developments to create sustainable options.

environmental impacts
  1. Waste generation

The global production of textile fibre has doubled in the last 20 years, reaching an all-time high of 111 million tonnes in 2019 [1] and maintaining growth forecasts for 2030. This increase, together with the current consumption model, leads to the generation of vast amounts of textile waste; in Spain alone it is estimated that annual clothing waste is 900,000 tonnes [2].

  1. Low recycling rate

The recycling rate for textile waste is very low. More than 85% of products discarded by consumers end up in landfills or incinerators and only 13% is recycled in some form after use. Most is transformed into other lower value items such as rags, insulation or filler material and less than 1% is recycled into new fibre. Therefore, in order to comply with the new regulations, it will not be enough to ensure the selective collection of textile waste, but will require the research and development of technologies that enable the recycling of the fibres with the aim of maintaining their value for as many cycles as possible.

  1. High water consumption (water footprint)

Textile production uses a lot of water, as well as land to grow cotton and other fibres. It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while the needs of the entire EU economy amounted to 266 billion cubic metres in 2017. To make a single cotton T-shirt, estimates indicate that 2,700 litres of fresh water are needed – the amount of water a person drinks in two and a half years.  [3]

  1. Use of chemicals

Chemicals are used in virtually all textile production processes, from fabric preparation and bleaching to finishing. Although at the legislative and regulatory level the use of permitted chemicals is well controlled (e.g. REACH regulation in Europe), the pollution load of these chemicals is still a major problem, especially for water treatment. It is estimated that between 1.5 and 6.9 kg of chemicals are used in the production of 1 kg of garments [3], meaning that the amount of chemicals used is greater than that of the textile product itself. Hence, the development of technologies to reduce chemical consumption, and generate as low a pollution load in effluents as possible, is critical.

  1. Water pollution and the emission of micro-plastics

According to estimates, the dyes and finishing products used in textiles are responsible for about 20 % of global drinking water pollution. The laundering of synthetic materials releases about 0.5 million tonnes of microfibres each year, which end up in the oceans. Synthetic laundry accounts for 35% of the primary microplastics released into the environment: a single load of polyester clothing can shed 700,000 microplastic fibres that can find their way into the food chain. [4]

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions (carbon footprint)

The fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, more than international flights and shipping combined. According to the European Environment Agency, textile purchases in the EU in 2017 generated around 654 kg of CO2 emissions per person. [3]   To help reduce these impacts, AITEX places its full array of technical facilities and resources at the disposal of the textile industry. Through the development of R&D projects, obtaining certifications that accredit good practices and specific training in sustainability and circular economy, companies will be able to reduce their costs and implement new sustainable business models. For further information, please contact Ana Rodes, Head of the Technical Unit of Circular Economy and Sustainability of AITEX by email arodes@aitex.es or visit our website aitex.es/sustainability.  

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