Clothing production almost doubled in the first 15 years of the century, while the number of times a garment is worn before being discarded decreased by 36%. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that around 10,000 litres of water are required to grow one kilogram of cotton, which is in turn needed to make just one pair of jeans.
The above statements are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s look at some statistics published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP):
These figures should undoubtedly concern the entire textile industry, particularly the fashion industry.
A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation, service, place, or product, expressed as a carbon dioxide equivalent. A carbon footprint can increase due to the emission of greenhouse gases, which may result from any of the below sources:
According to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) protocol corporate standard, greenhouse gas emissions are classified into three scopes:
According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the global apparel market is likely to record a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% during the years 2020 to 2025. This anticipated growth can significantly increase the carbon footprint.
The carbon footprint of the textile industry can be estimated based on the energy consumed during the manufacturing of the fabric/product. The carbon footprint can increase due to any process in the entire supply chain cycle of the textile industry. There are seven stages in textile production, from raw material to finished goods. During each of these stages, a large part can contribute to an increase in carbon footprint.
Stage 1: Fibre production – At this stage, significant energy is consumed through electricity, water, chemicals and the fuel used for machinery.
Stage 2: Yarn production (spinning the harvested fibre into yarn) – This uses machines, which consume fuel, water, spinning oils, and electricity.
Stage 3: Fabric production – At this step, sizing chemicals, solvents, adhesives, binders, and lubricants are added to prevent the yarn from breaking during the processes, such as knitting, weaving, etc.
Stage 4: Pre-treatment – Once the fabric is ready, it undergoes pre-treatment to accept dyes and functional chemicals. The pre-treatment process involves washing, de-sizing of sizing chemicals, bleaching, etc.
Stage 5: Dyeing – The dyeing and printing of fabric uses hazardous chemicals, dyes, plasticisers, detergents, etc.
Stage 6: Finishing touches – The sixth step is about providing finishing touches to the fabric. Depending on the style of the fabric, chemicals, resins, oils based on fluorocarbons, polymers, etc. are used.
Stage 7: Logistics – The final step involves the manufacturing, transportation and retail sales of the finished fabric. At this step, the fabric is shaped into clothes and other utility items by providing desired colours and designs. It means extensive use of water for washing and dyeing the fabric, using chemicals for colouring, biocides for protection against mould during transportation, and plastic for packaging purposes.
Out of all the above processes, the dyeing and finishing stages account for the highest greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuels required to generate heat and electricity used during these processes.
While the carbon footprint can increase due to the entire manufacturing life cycle of the fabric, there are a few significant contributing factors that can further increase the carbon footprint from the textile industry:
Now we know how the textile industry is contributing to increasing the carbon footprint, let’s look at the top 5 ways to reduce the carbon footprint in the textile industry:
It will also result in lower utilisation of resources that cause greenhouse gas emissions. Attire makers have already migrated to creating fashion lines through recycled plastic. For example, Adidas has designed and manufactured uniforms for the Real Madrid football team using recycled plastic salvaged from the oceans several times in the past few years. Similarly, the Sri Lankan cricket team’s uniform for the 2019 Cricket World Cup was upcycled through plastic waste recovered from the beaches of Sri Lanka.
By using different software, the industry can crowdsource ideas for design. Furthermore, the demands can be linked directly to production and the supply chain to manufacture small batches of the fabric. Also, technology can be leveraged to manufacture and produce fabric with a longer shelf life. Implementing technology at stages can significantly help reduce the carbon footprint for the textile industry.
The release of greenhouse gases and increase in carbon footprint is an inevitable part of the entire life cycle of fabric to cloth in the textile industry. However, the industry can take conscious steps to reduce its carbon footprint and move towards more sustainable and environment-friendly processes and materials.