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Textile Water Waste

- Caitlyn Bull

Water is one of the most valuable and necessary commodities in the world, and yet, the global water supply is constantly threatened. The textile industry specifically is one of the leading water consumers and contributors to water pollution. From growing the raw material, to dyeing, and rinsing, water is used in almost every step of the textile production process. In 2015 for example, the fashion industry consumed an estimated 79 billion cubic meters of water. The fashion industry also accounts for an estimated 20% of the global water pollution. It is for these reasons that the fashion industry must explore creative solutions to reducing textile water waste and use in order to realize a fully circular economy. AT PHOENXT for example we continue our commitment to a circular economy by employing a closed water loop which simultaneously addresses both issues of use and waste.

We must first confront the concern at its source by addressing the fashion industry’s contribution to water pollution. The World Bank has identified 72 toxic chemicals that stem solely from textile dyeing. The dye often ends up washed into water bodies, creating a thin layer of discharged dyes over the surface of the water and severely degrading the aquatic ecosystem and our water supply in the process. The chemicals and heavy metals from the textile waste water can also be linked to various cancers, illness and skin problems. This water pollution not only severely impacts our global water supply but also the communities that rely on water bodies to live as well. In China, a leading location of textile production, the World Bank estimates 90% of local groundwater is contaminated, rendering it useless for washing, fishing, and farming. Using more natural, chemical-free, dyes and textile treatments in the production cycle can help remedy this problem. In addition specific regulations are necessary to ensure textile waste water cannot runoff into water bodies. Instead, textile industries must treat their waste water in order to reuse it later in the production cycle.

While it may seem simple, in order to reuse textile water waste it must first be cleaned from fat, oil, phosphates, pesticides, dyes, and other chemicals, all of which are used during several production steps. This process can be difficult and lengthy, which is why many industries continue to linearly utilize their water supply. That said, cleaning and reusing the water supply is a necessary step for the protection of both human and environmental health.

Electrocoagulation is an emerging solution to the growing water waste dilemma. This method employs a combination of conventional coagulation, flotation and electrochemistry in order to separate the color, dyes, and toxic chemicals from the water. Electrocoagulation is a relatively cost-efficient, sustainable, and successful solution to remove waste from the water supply.

Further, extending the life-span of garments can hugely impact the fashion industry’s usage of water. According to a 2017 report, continuing to actively wear a garment for just nine months longer could diminish its carbon, water, and waste by 20–30%. The fast fashion industry and the growing demand for clothing challenges that solution. Through PHOENXT’s separation technology 22.2 million tonnes of waste polyester can be potentially saved, diminishing the impact of rampant garment discard. Garments that would otherwise be discarded are extended. We are able to create new materials from the existing textile waste without extracting any more natural resources and exacerbating the environmental impact of the textile industry.

The solution to the growing water waste problem is clear. The textile industry as a whole must include water reuse into our imagination of a circular economy and implement more sustainable alternatives to how we consume and treat our water supply.

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