Annually, 43 million tonnes of chemicals are used to produce textiles. With so many chemicals used to make textiles, we cannot go without talking about the chemistry behind it.
“Textile chemistry is a highly specialized field that applies the principles of chemistry to the production of textiles, such as those used in clothing, furniture, tire yarn, airbags, and much more. Textile chemists may create new products to meet specific market needs or modify existing products to become more generally marketable.” - American Chemical Society
Stages in which chemicals are used:
The chemistry does not start and end in the production phase but extends to consumption and disposal - across the entire supply chain, consumer use and disposal. For example, chemicals are used for:
- Fibre and clothing production
- Dying/ colouring
- Dry cleaning/washing
- Recycling textiles
- Alkylphenols Phthalates
- Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
- Azo dyes
- Organotin compounds
- Perfluorinated chemicals
- Chlorinated solvents
- Short-chain chlorinated paraffins
- Heavy metals: cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI)
How do these chemicals impact us and our environment?
They do in the form of hazards from chemical toxicity, water pollution, energy consumption, and waste generation. Chemicals used in the above processes enter into our pristine water bodies, polluting and spreading hazards associated with them. Water pollution is especially a concern in places where water is already scarce, which is apparently the condition of developing countries where the production of textiles happens. The documentary RIVERBLUE spans the globe to infiltrate one of the world’s most pollutive industries, fashion.
How can we change the way we are fundamentally living our lives?
One way to do it is to find sustainable or renewable chemicals designed with people and the planet in mind. Green Chemistry as defined by Anastas and Warner is the utilisation of a set of principles that reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture and application of chemical products.
Examples of innovations:
Environment & Social Sustainability Specialist