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How the textile industry is reducing its water impact

13.05.2015

Manufacturers today must guard against water risks to our planet, where resources may not be sufficient in the future to meet our water needs. That is the conclusion in the form of a warning sign in a study published by the auditing and consultancy firm PwC. With processes that are especially water-intensive and pollution-emitting, the textile industry is already tackling this challenge.

With unprecedented repeated periods of drought, people living in Southern California are growing worried. The water stress the region is experiencing could cause some of the world’s leading premium jeans brands (J Brand Jeans, Paige Denim, Guess, True Religion…) to relocate from their California bases. These manufacturers need massive amounts of water, essential not only for growing local cotton used to make jeans, but also for processing water for washing, colouring, etc.

Extract from the PwC’s “Collaboration: Preserving Water Through Partnering That Works” report

To avoid leaving California and to limit the impact of the likely rise in water prices, a number of big names have adopted new technology for washing: ozoning, which consists of replacing water with ozone in the washing process. A machine sucks in and filters ambient air. The resulting oxygen obtained is purified and enriched to become ozone, which is in turn injected into the drum containing the jeans. Like sunlight, the gas naturally ages the denim fabric. This process also uses 50% less water than traditional washing.

Denim manufacturers are not the only ones questioning their processes. All of the world’s big clothing brands are looking at ways to reduce water consumption and pollution emissions. The textile industry uses 4 billion tons of water a year to produce 30 billion kilos of fabric. According to the World Bank, it alone will account for 17-20% of the world’s water pollution. Consequently, manufacturers have to turn to new, more sustainable manufacturing processes, like the solution developed by the Dutch company DyeCoo.

Adopted by Nike and Adidas, for example, the DyeCoo process dyes polyester without water, chemical additives or drying. It pressurises carbon dioxide (CO2) to the right temperature to turn it into liquid and gas. This “fixes” the colours of the fabric. As proof of the promise of this solution, the global sportswear giant Nike is now a shareholder in DyeCoo, whose R&D teams are now developing similar technology for nylon and cotton.

Dyecoo technology used in new Nike factory in Taiwan