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                        ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND SUSTAINABILITY

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                        Environmental protection and sustainability in the textile industry  

                        Modern consumers expect a lot out of the textiles they buy. Of course, they must suit their taste and be health friendly. However, consumers also expect more and more that socially accepxable workplaces are offered to the employees in production. In addition, the goods must be produced in an environmentally friendly way as sustainability is required. According to the Brundtland report, sustainability means that the raw materials consumed must also be sufficiently available for future generations.

                        Friedrich Petry Textilchemie Dr. Petry GmbH, Reutlingen/Germany 

                        The textile industry soon feit the geographic and social consequences of globalization: In search for more favourable conditions for production, many textile companies relocated their production to developing countries where wages are Iow, raw materials wellpriced and environmental constraints Iow. In the course of processing raw materials, semimanufactured goods and finished clothes frequently travel half way around the world. Therefore, the most important factor regarding sustainability is the human being. Only the one who knows what he does and who is aware of the consequences of his actions can decide in favour of the most sustainable Opxion of actions. Nevertheless, for doing this there ought to be no external restraints such as financial objectives for organizing the production process. Normally, this is not the case as in this age of bargain hunters only a minority of customers is prepared to pay higher prices for sustainably manufactured quality products, if necessary.

                        Water, energy and raw materials - production factors in the textile industry

                        The essential factors for production in textile finishing are water, energy, textile raw materials as fibers, yarns or fabrics and additionally machines and chemical auxiliaries.

                        Water is the basis of life for humans. A sustainable production requires careful handling of this resource which is running shorter and shorter throughout the world. Only a small percentage of water on this earth is fresh water, and again only a fractional amount of this can be used as drinking water. At the same time water is also an essential factor for production in industry and agriculture. Particularly, in case of the cultivation of cotton the water problem becomes clear: Depending on cultivation method and region 1 kg of cotton needs from 7,000 liters (for example in case of drip irrigation in Israel) to 30,000 liters of water (in Sudan, for example, when using water as a production factor extensively) until it is harvested.

                        Cotton cultivation by irrigation in desert or veldt zones along the feeder rivers towards Aral Sea since the 1960's led to the worldwide biggest natural disaster caused by humans. The formerly fourth biggest lake in the world which was rieh in fish lost almost half of its area and 90 % of its water, the content of salt quadrupled. The climate changed drastically within a large radius from the created salt desert, the conditions for life worsened significantly.

                        Energy is mainly generated from non-sustainable sources. Regenerative energy so far represents a small share in energy generation. Sun shines on the earth with sufficient power. However, as long as it is impossible to make use of this and other regenerative sources and to satisfy the needs with this, the most economical use of energy is recommended.

                        From the very beginning, the textile industry used regenerative raw materials as textile raw materials, predominantly cotton and other vegetable and animal fibers. Besides the already mentioned enormous quantity of water, the cultivation and harvesting of cotton requires high amounts of pesticides and herbicides. So-called 'organic' cotton has been cultivated without using pesticides. The part of organic cotton in the complete cotton market amounts to 0.5 % and is still insignificant.

                        Linen and hemp are much more resistant to pests than cotton. When cultivating linen and hemp no, or only small amounts, of pesticides are necessary, but these fibers are only suitable for particular textiles due to their harsh structure. Animal fibers require animal husbandry for better or for worse.

                        Ecologic plus factors for chemical fibers

                        Besides natural fibers, many synthetic fibers can be listed. Polyester fibers have been produced industrially since 1947 and represent today's most important chemical fiber all around the world. Chemical fibers with 60 % in world fiber production in 2006 have already greatly surpassed natural fibers like cotton (38 %) and wool (2 %). In addition, chemical fibers show properties like elasticity and wearing comfort which cannot be obtained with regenerative fibers. A fast judgement like "natural fibers are better than synthetic fibers" is not justified, as chemical fibers behave more favourably than cotton in the total ecological balance. Besides the need of energy and resources also factors like machine usage, fertilizer, finishing and transportation costs have to be kepx in mind. In the case of synthetic fibers their dependence on the raw material, petroleum, is problematic.

                        However, chemical fibers also provide valuable ecological Services after their use as textile. While cellulosic chemical fibers are biologically degradable, synthetic fibers can be recycled by reducing them to their monomers. Furthermore, a variety of chemical fibers already consists of recycled raw materials. For example, approximately 40 % of all PET bottles consumed in Europe are converted into fibers every year. Thus the pile of waste is decreased by 10 million PET bottles per day and 200,000 tons of primary raw materials can be saved.

                        In order to produce textiles many machines are necessary. In the past, development of these machines a trend of development could be recognized despite all diversity: More modern machines work faster, more precisely, with shorter liquor ratios and with Iower energy consumpxion. For the production of machines raw materials (metals) are required.

                        Dyestuffs and finishing - chemistry is essential and ecological

                        Chemistry plays a significant role in textile finishing. Natural dyestuffs have been replaced little by little by synthetic dyestuffs. In the past, dyestuffs like indigo were extracted from plants. In 1878 the first production of synthetic dyestuff succeeded. Since 1897 synthetically produced indigo has been commercially marketed and has almost completely replaced the indigo production out of vegetable raw materials. In terms of economy and ecology the synthetic process turned out to be significantly superior to the natural process.

                        In addition, the auxiliaries for finishing are mainly on synthetic-chemical basis. The reason for this development is the predominance of synthetic products with regard to dye fastness and levelness of finishing. Petroleum is mostly used for the production of chemicals. As this is not a regenerative raw material, a careful handling with these chemicals and auxiliaries is necessary.

                        One may reasonably expect that in an environment shaped by competition the costs for the production factors lead the dyehouses to a possibly careful handling with them. However, by taking into account this criterion, no Statement can be made regarding the environmental friendliness and sustainability.

                        Chemistry helps to save water, energy and fibers

                        The combination of production factors is not made according to rigid Standards, but can be chosen to a certain degree. As a consequence of this the same result can be achieved using different resources. The price is crucial for weighting the Single production factors. Adjustments of the prices for the Single production factors shift the weighting of the production factors. Thus increasing costs for energy will induce the dyehouses to use energy saving machines. On the other hand, subsidies of water may impede the application of water saving recipes.

                        A direct advantage of doing without chemistry - which is the overall demand of the ecologists - cannot be observed. In the industry, a combination of production factors including chemical auxiliaries is normal. The replacement of chemical auxiliaries can be discussed as follows:

                        Chemistry reduces the need for water

                        For some process Steps in textile finishing, treatments without auxiliaries are possible. Examples are dyeing and soaping processes. However, much more water is necessary. Chemical auxiliaries reduce the water consumpxion.

                        Chemistry saves energy

                        Detergents containing polymers, enzymes and newly developed bleaching agents how much better washing results with shorter times and at Iower temperatures than conventional detergents. Modern auxiliaries lead to direct savings of energy.

                        Chemistry cleans fibers

                        Cotton is a natural product which brings along accompanying substances like fats, oils and seed husks of up to 40 %. For this reason it is necessary to clean cotton in order to be able to carry out the successive process Steps in a reliable way. The application of auxiliaries guarantees the completeness of the cleaning process. Auxiliaries reduce the amount of defective goods.

                        Chemistry preserves machines

                        The friction between fiber and metal in the weaving and knitting machines leads to breakage of threads.

                        Auxiliaries prevent such breakage of threads and allow for higher processing speeds, thus higher capacities per machine are possible. Auxiliaries reduce the machine depreciation this way.

                        Methods to achieve more environmental protection and sustainability

                        What other methods are available to achieve more sustainability excepx abandoning chemistry? First one should check which combination of production factors meets the requirements of sustainability best. For doing this, broad knowledge is necessary: What consequences has the consumpxion of a distinct raw material? To which extent can this material be used again, i.e. recycled? This knowledge is very complex. Many research projects and companies deal with these issues.

                        On the basis of this knowledge some methods to achieve sustainability can be found. The realization will be various. The following starting points come into consideration:

                        Costs for environmental matters should be regarded when pricing

                        The price, with its function as a central signalling tool must reflect the costs for environmental matters and the considerations concerning sustainability. Excepxions from this rule lead to unfavourable results:

                        In many countries the price for water is extremely Iow - ironically this applies even for countries with a shortage of water. Modern machines and auxiliaries which help to save water are not in demand, water is wasted. In many countries waste water may be discharged into the environment more or less without treatment.

                        Machines or auxiliaries for water treatment are not in demand. In some countries the dyehouses can use governmentally subsidized energy. Modern machines for efficient production are not in demand. In all these cases more sustainability in production would be realizable by a more environmentally friendly pricing - frequently, only by doing without subsidies.

                        Voluntary self-commitment and prohibitions

                        The voluntary self-commitment of market participants is an alternative to prohibition which proved in case of alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEO). APEO's are Iow-priced and highly effective detergents with excellent application properties. Therefore, they have been used for many technical applications, e.g. as washing and cleaning agents with Special requirements. Already by the end of the 1980's negative side effects of these nonionic detergents were detected: APEO's decompose relatively quickly in the environment, this is why their primary degradability meets the demands of the detergent regulation. However, the intermediate products arising from this process are relatively resistant and significantly more toxic for fish than the surface active detergents themselves.

                        Therefore, the industrial associations German Cosmetic, Toiletry, Perfumery and Detergent Association (IKW) and Association of Cleaning Products Manufacturers (IPP), the sector group Industrial Cleaners of the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) as well as the Association of the Manufacturers of Textile, Paper and Leather Auxiliaries, Tanning and Detergent Raw Materials (TEGEWA) committed towards the Federal Ministry of the Interior in 1986 to influence their member companies aiming that APEO detergents are no longer used in washing and cleaning agents. This voluntary self-commitment prevented the Ministry from decreeing a regulation or prohibition of the APEO application or severe requirements regarding the environmental compatibility of detergents.

                        In the meantime, APEO's have been replaced by fatty alcohol ethoxylates. However, market participants of other continents did not assent to the voluntary self-commitment so far.

                        Chemical enhancements solve Problems

                        A challenge which could often be met in the chemical industry is the development of new methods on the basis of modern chemistry. Nature displays things of which chemists could only dream of so far. Most complex compounds are produced at ambient temperature and without pressure just with the aid of solar energy. There are still many starting points for chemical research.

                        Everything easy - really environmentally friendly?

                        In order to apply an antifelting finish wool is usually chlorinated. This is guaranteed by the "total easy care" label of woolmark Company ("wool label"). An alternative to processes using chlorine which has been developed on the basis of enzymes cannot comply with the high criteria of the woolmark Company regarding washability, however, it nevertheless shows sufficient anti-felting properties. In addition, the new process would significantly reduce the burden on the environment. The consumers gain the convenience of "total easy care" by considerable environmental stress in production. It is a moot point if consumers - knowing this connection - would continue to enquire "total easy care".

                        Regenerative raw materials replace fossil ones: the example of chitosan

                        Subject to certain conditions it makes sense to do without a petroleum based production of substances, but to use natural regenerative raw materials. The example of indigo shows that regenerative raw materials cannot be preferred generally.

                        Chitosan is a regenerative raw material which could replace traditional chemistry: yarns processed on modern weaving machines have to be treated with synthetic sizing agents. These agents protect the warp yarns from high rubbing forces by harness frames and neighbouring threads in the automatic weaving process. However, they are not biologically degradable or only under certain conditions.

                        Conventional sizing agents are based on starch, CMS, CMC, PVA, PET and acrylates. The latter ones are mineral oil based and show particularly good effects. Sizing agents based on chitosan come into consideration as an environmentally friendly alternative. Chitosan is extracted from chitin which is besides cellulose the most abundant polysaccharide on earth. Chitosan can be produced by Separation of acetyl groups. This polymer is non-toxic and excellently biologically degradable.

                        Requirements of trade chains and consumers

                        Meanwhile, big textile producers and trade chains require a lot out of the applied chemicals and processes in the countries of production. Many campaigns primarily serve communication purposes classically themed "do something good - and talk about it". In detail the activities can only be categorized with difficulty, in most cases the path leads undoubtedly in the right direction, even if only step by step.

                        One international label marking "sustainable" textiles is the EU Eco-Iabel. It marks products which meet exalted Standards concerning their Performance as well as their environmental quality. Products which are labelled with the EU Eco-Iabel must pass severe environmental capability tests whose results are checked by an independent agency. Clothes labeled with the European flower must offer environmental advantages which are proven: Even fabrics made of natural fibers like cotton or wool may damage the environment, especially by their production processes. Clothes and shoes carrying the flower of the EU Eco-Iabel do less harm to the environment due to water saving production processes, prevention of unhealthy colors, printing pastes and other substances, better dimensional stability, color fastness as well as longer durability.

                        In contrast, in the case of the most famous label for textiles, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 ("Confidence in Textiles"), only substances harmful for humans are listed. The Standard specifies the science-based limit values. It is a human ecological and the human toxicological Standard respectively which affects the textile production chain only indirectly. In the case of textiles the interaction between fabric and skin is important. Here the Oeko-Tex Standard proceeds from more severe criteria than the German and European legislation. The testing requirements are particularly severe in case of baby clothes and articles for infants.

                        Other labels like Naturtextil and the EU Eco- Iabel do also factor the production into the evaluation.

                        Conclusion: chemistry can contribute to more sustainability in the textile industry

                        In total, the global textile industry does not operate environmentally friendly and sustainably right now. However, there are numerous starting points to improve the sustainability. Modern chemistry will be an essential component on this path.


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