Sustainable Textile Challenges


In order to make the textile and fashion industry sustainable, it is imperative that the key challenges are identified and steps taken to overcome them.

The Challenges section at E2Expo provides relevant stakeholders intelligence on the critical sustainability challenges faced by the textile and fashion industry, provides resources for solutions and tools, and also provides a forum for discussion and interactions

Cotton represents about 20% of all fibers used for textiles and over 75% of all natural fibers used. Annually, over 25 million tons of cotton fiber are produced for textiles and apparel.

Cotton consumes significant amounts of water, fertilizers and pesticides, thus contributing significantly to both the carbon footprint as well as the ecological footprint of textiles and apparel.

Efforts that can significantly enhance sustainability of cotton cultivation will thus have a powerful positive effect on the sustainability of the textile and fashion industry as a whole. 

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Wastewater from textile production, especially at the yarn and fabric dyeing stages, pose a significant challenge to the industry of the textile and fashion industry worldwide.

With strict mandates having emerged for such treatment in many countries, textile and apparel factories have put together a host of treatment systems (mostly a combination of physical and chemical treatments) in order to comply with the regulatory requirements. The long term sustainability of these treatment processes are however not clear as many of them use chemicals and also consume significant energy.

What are needed are more sustainable avenues - which could include among others a host of nature and bio-based mechanisms - for textile waste water treatment.

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Wool and leather currently are sources for apparel and accessories with sizable market sizes worldwide. Yet, being currently based on animals for their raw materials, these industries aso have significant greenhouse gas footprints, especially from the rearing sheep and cattle stages, Not only do the animals need significant amounts of feed for their growth, they belch out  methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, and other aspects of their animal husbandry can result in sizable amounts of greenhouse gases too.

For all these reasons, it is imperative that the fashion / textile sectors dependent on animals  for their raw materials need to figure out well-designed avenues to reduce their overall ecological footprint. 

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The textile and fashion industry have evolved over a hundred years to what they are today. Their stakeholder needs and aspirations have also been shaped in specific ways during this period. Transforming significant components of their business value chain to become more environmentally and socially sustainable could pose problems - at least in the short and medium term - to many of these aspirations and needs, and also the way competition is currently defined in the industry. But at the same time, pretty much every company in the textile and fashion industry needs to reshape their business value chains to be aligned to sustainability. How can the industry reconcile these seemingly conflicting aspects?

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Centralized production has been a hallmark of industrial progress worldwide since 1950. It had its benefits of course - higher production efficiency, economies of scale, higher investments, and better control of personnel training and quality control to name some. At the same time, such centralized production of goods including textiles has resulted in job losses for many developed countries, exploitation of environment and labour in poorer countries, significant migration of rural poor to urban regions, and also a lot of waste along the entire supply chain owing to its complex nature and sophistication. As the world tries to reconfigure itself post COVID, a higher reliance on local supplies including reinvigorating rural economies is topping the agenda of countries rich and poor. How can the textile industry, one of the largest industries in the world with significant centralized production, go local and decentralized?

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Most recent studies indicate that the customers of today are more aware of environmental issues, and are also willing to play a role in making the world more sustainable. At the same time, they need help from the industry stakeholders in making intelligent choices and for effective access to make sustainable purchases. What solutions and processes can the textile and apparel industry use to assist buyers and buying patterns more sustainable?

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Globally, it is estimated that over 200,000 tons of dyes are lost to effluents every year during the dyeing and finishing operations. Unfortunately, a large portion of these dyes escape conventional wastewater treatment processes and contaminate the environment - mostly waterways. Besides, conventional chemical physical treatment of dyeing waste water are energy and chemical intensive, making them unsustainable for the long term. These necessitate the use of natural and bio-based treatment avenues for textile dyeing waste water.

What are the currently available bio-based solutions for textile dyeing wastewater treatment? What could the future hold for these?

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