Sustainability in Textiles

Sustainability in Textiles


Sustainability is a catchword related to concepts against the further overexploitation of natural resources (mainly fossil energy sources, like mineral oil), which schedule comprehensive energy saving measures and also the effective use of renewable energy. Sustainability also refers to surmounting social inequities and inequalities, as well as a greater involvement of all participants to improve the circumstances by restructuring.


Production Ecology

Production Ecology considers the impact of the production processes on mankind and the environment, for instance industrial safety, material-, water- and energy consumption, sewage- and waste treatment as well as air pollution
through formation of dust and also noise emission.

Human Ecology

Human Ecology adresses the effects of chemical ingredientes in textiles on human health and well- being.

Usage Ecology

Usage Ecology tackles the utilisation phase of textiles. It records the environmental impact during washing, dry-cleaning and generally the care of garments.

Waste Management

Waste Management deals with difficulties regarding disposal, re-use, recycling and elemination (thermal utilisation or disposal) of textiles.

An opinion survey by Forsa (commissioned by Stern-Magazine), indicated that 66% of the German citizens are no longer willing to buy at companies producing under inhumane working conditions. If this will be really the case remains to be seen. Nevertheless the pressure on textile industry is increasing. Several large groups reacted in signing an agreement, where they commit themselves to provide better working-conditions and more saftey at work in Bangladesh.
Textile industry is the second biggest polluter worldwide – only petrochemistry is worse in contaminating the planet.

Materials– Resources

Many factors are affecting the sustainability of textiles. Origin of the fibers, how a crude fiber becomes a textile, the working-conditions of people, who are operating within these processes and last but not least the ecological footprint.
Natural Fibers
Here we cover the issue using the example of cotton, hemp and silk – also the cultivation of natural fibers questions their sustainability.
Cotton is the most important natural fiber, due to its special characterisitics and numerous areas of application. We have the massive problem, that 25% of all pesticides are needed for growing cotton. To fabricate a ready made garment estimated 8000 chemicals are required. Pesticides are released into the air and also into the soil – which results in a comprehensive contamination by toxic substances and as a consequence people working in cotton cultivation are afflicted by diseases. (For instance: Monsanto provides seeds (mainly bioengineered) – also provides pesticides – and finally pharmaceuticals to cure the people employed in cotton-farming.
All natural fibers cultivated for further textile processing, are exposed to pesticides (except from bio-cotton). Hemp ist very similar to cotton in its characteristics, and also quite resistant according to parasites, but for reasons known the cultivation of hemp is limited by government restrictions all over the world.
Animal rights activists recognize an essential problem during the generation of silk. The silk cocoons are put into boiling water to kill the silkworm. This happens to prevent the worm from biting through the cocoon and at the same time destroying the only continuous filament made by nature.

Chemical fibers

Synthetic fibers are based on petrochemical provenance. The variety of used chemicals and also the chemical processes themselves are endless. Highly toxic especially during production – the negative impacts on the environment are not entirely clarified. Synthetic fibers are also manufactured in the first world, just to mention Bayer AG (momentarily keen on acquisiton of Monsanto, which would result in a totally uncontrollable Mega-Chemical-Group) and BASF.

Cellulose based fibers

The main exponent of this group is viscose and related derivatives. The base is cellulose. The effects on the invironment and on men during production are similar to the ones in manufactoring synthetic fibers.

Manufacture of textiles

The world`s largest textile groups – now operating for 25 to 30 years – and since then we speak of „fast fashion“ – totally transformed the consumers purchase behavior in this phase. In the 1980ies we bought 1 to 2 garments in three month, we are now talking about an average purchase of 3 to 4 pieces in one month. The suppliers are active on a global scale and offer the same article at the same time in every shop worldwide. It exists a comprehensive branch network – competition only takes place on a multi-corporation base. They outsource the production of garments, which implicates that producers in the third world compete with each other in undercutting the prices to gain the orders. In the end their employees pay for it – they have to accept even lower wages, more intense contract-work in overheated production halls, sometimes the workers are still nearly kids.

85% of all people working in the textile industry are women.

The big textile corporations mostly do not take responsibility for the disastrous conditions under which these poor people are forced to work. One argument states: After outsourcing the production, they have no influence on the situation, as they are not their own companies. The large textile groups attempt to keep the costs for production, packaging, transport etc. as low as possible, to increase revenues and profits. On the other hand we have to point out, that they maintain thousands of jobs.

Disposal of used textiles

In times of „fast fashion“ also the disposal of used textiles becomes an issue. A US citizen disposes around 35 kg textiles per year. Mainly on the garbage disposal. The decay of polyester takes about 200 years – toxic emissions compromise air and soil during this period. We talk about „Primark Waste“. Possible solutions are to be found in the conduct of final consumers.

Consumer habits

First of all we should reduce the quantity of garments we buy and we should focus on more sustainable articles. More expensive products are kept longer. Used textiles should be handed over to Second Hand Shops or donated to charity. Garments from older kids should be passed on to their younger siblings within the family or circle of friends. We all are exposed to the enticement to buy cheap fashionable clothes – and it must be acknowleged that the guys from these big monolables know their business – they are fast and to the point in the implementation of trends. Also in our first world countries we are forced to notice a decrease in the financial strength of the mass market.

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