Fabric dyeing, one of the world’s most ecologically destructive industries, is primed for a facelift. Though the industry has traditionally polluted trillions of liters of clean water, companies have invented new machinery designed to dye clothing while using little to no water. If implemented on a global scale, this waterless technology could keep public waterways clean and free of chemicals, reports Environment 360.
Three companies have developed machines that could revolutionize the way clothing is dyed: AirDye, ColorZen, and DyeCoo. Although all three differ in how they work, each one uses no more than 5% of the water currently employed by factories, obviously resulting in less polluted water.
The trick will be to get garment industries to embrace change. For decades, methods of creating clothing in these countries have undergone minimal changes, especially considering all of the technological advancements, with dyeing being no exception. Although waterless dyeing would seem like a more pressing transition to make if companies were held accountable for their existing polluting practice, the industry currently considers dumping toxic water into public waterways like rivers and oceans a cheap solution that doesn’t result in punishment. Technically, many of the dumped chemicals are banned by local governments, but companies persist in secretly spilling cancerous compounds like TBT, PFOS, and PBDE anyway.
Analysts estimate that China alone is responsible for 40% of the world’s dye-related pollution. Each year, China dumps 2.5 trillion liters of dye chemical water waste into its waterways. Additionally, the country’s factories record around five “accidental” spillings each day. Yet as Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist, noted, “These toxic spills are emergency situations, but the daily discharge of hazardous substances is by itself already an ongoing disaster.”
The presence of chemicals and dyes in some waterways is so problematic that it’s plainly visible. Those who live by the Yangtze River, for example, can spot the contamination and color change with their own eyes.
Clean water isn’t the only eco-benefit of these new dyeing technologies – they also ultimately result in carbon emission reductions. Because the fabrics take half as long to dye and dry instantly, the new process only requires 50% of the energy that the old methods require. Until the overall cost drops, however, it’s likely that only the largest corporations will adopt these new technologies.
Altering the dyeing industry would also clean up waterways in countries without these factories, as well. When the United States and European companies purchase these colored articles of clothing, lingering chemicals travel with them. Generally, these toxins run off in the laundry and pollute local water supplies, too.
Although the $4 million price tag for these machines will certainly be an obstacle in getting factories to convert, it could be a sound decision in the long run from a purely financial perspective. Water pollution aside, waterless dyeing slashes production costs by about 40%, making the day-to-day operations much more affordable. While the hefty initial price tag will probably limit the shift to major corporations, hopefully the competition between the three new companies will help to reduce prices moving forward.