Modern synthetic fibers, and fiber refining for all types

Modern textile, comfort/active clothing, Fast Fashion etc. are all increasing industry trends, but if thought from a critical point of view many questions come to mind, like; Is it sustainable to have such a short life cycle of a product? Is the price tag on a piece of cloth is its actual value? “The textile and clothing sector consists of a wide number of sub-sectors, from sourcing of raw materials (?bers) to semi-processed (yarns, woven and knitted fabrics with their ?nishing process) and ?nal consumer products (carpets, home textiles, clothing and industrial use textiles)” (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp. 213). Henceforth, we analyse the first section of our paper on the environmental concerns, causes, effects, solutions and challenges of the textile industry from a life cycle perspective. “LCA is a useful methodology, regulated by the ISO 14040:1996 and ISO 14044:2006 (ISO, 1997, 2006), employed for the assessing of potential environmental impacts associated with a product by the evaluation of relevant inputs and outputs throughout its product life, from production and acquisition of raw materials, industrial treatment, and ?nal disposal” (F.A. Esteve-Turrillas, M. de la Guardia, 2017, pp. 108). Keeping all such concerns in mind, we majorly focus our analyses on four stages of a textile product lifecycle, especially within clothing subdomain, which are as follows:

•    Raw Material Extraction

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•    Manufacturing

•    Consumption & Use

•    Disposal


At each and every step of a textile product, we are harming the environment and the increasing population leading to higher demand for clothing and textile making which is it more so worse for the environment. “The raw material extraction phase includes agriculture for natural fibers, forestry for regenerated fibers, oil extraction for synthetic fibers, and fiber refining for all types of fibers. The manufacturing phase includes yarn spinning, fabric construction, wet treatment, and confectioning. The use phase includes the use of the garment, washing, and drying. The end of life phase includes disposal of the garments, generally combustion or landfill” (Roos et al., 2015, pp. 233). Let’s dive deep into the topic and see, what are the major concerns in textile industry when looked from an environmental point-of-view.


1.1           Raw Material Extraction

Cotton Fibers are the major raw Material for the textile industry, especially in the section of comfort clothing. Cotton fibers are the natural fibers used to produce the cotton textile. It is the most widely used natural fibers in the world, it is used for over 82% of the global natural fiber consumption (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp. 213).


One of the major challenges in using cotton as the primary source of production is that it is a water-intensive crop and consumes fresh water in abundance. Mostly, the flood-or-furrow irrigation system is used for the cultivation of cotton, which has a very low efficiency, approximately 40%, due to which there are two direct impacts to the environment: One the wastage of fresh water and the other is an increase in the degree of salinization. “Soil salinization occurs when evapotranspiration exceeds rainfall and is as such a threat to irrigated areas in particular. Irrigation water dissolves calcium carbonate and soluble salts in the soil. Since calcium carbonate is relatively insoluble, it accumulates in the topsoil leading to additional salt deposition (originally from the irrigation water) and waterlogging”. Cotton cultivation is a major factor which is impacting the freshwater ecosystem on a global scale. “Cotton consumption is responsible for 2.6% of global water use” (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp.155-161). Conclusively, the high-volume usage of fresh water in cultivation is resulting in scarcity of freshwater for the consumption of human and other living organisms.


Another challenge in cotton cultivation is the use of agrochemicals (synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, growth regulators, growth stimulators, boll openers or defoliants) to save the crop from yield lowering insects, weeds and to stimulate the growth of the crop (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp.216). The use of pesticides has a severe effect on the fishes and other organism in the water, which is a part of freshwater contamination as well as affecting the micro-organisms and the related biodiversity. Water contamination is not the sole effect of using these agrochemicals but it also leads to greenhouse emissions. Extensive use of nitrogenous fertilizers, like Ammonium nitrate, urea, calcium nitrate, ammonium sulphate contributes to the greenhouse effect. This greenhouse effect leads to the emission of CO2 eq. which in turns lead to problems like temperature change, and global warming. “Ammonium nitrate is also the ?rst item of impact in the other scenarios because of its contribution in ?eld preparation processes and transport by trucks”. The use of all these synthetic fertilizer effects the quality of soil drastically, which lead to low productivity at a later stage. Also, the use of phosphors based synthetic fertilizers used in the fields during ploughing and pest control lead to the addition of eco-toxicity in the food chain due to the accumulation in the plant, animals and other organisms (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp. 160-162). “The use of synthetic fertilizers based on phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and their use. In particular, the principal effects which they cause are respiratory problems (about 80%) such as irritation and in?ammation of the airways, asthma, bronchitis, lung diseases”. (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp.161) This includes both acute and chronic poisoning, where acute means excessive amount of toxic inhalation at one time and chronic means repeated exposure to toxic agents for a longer period of time.


The core solution to reduce the impact of cotton cultivation, basically involves two major concerns, i.e. efficient use of water and the regulating or controlling the use of agrochemicals (Zhang et al., 2015, pp. 1000). Efficient irrigation techniques like drip irrigation (branched polypropylene pipe system), partial root zone, should be promoted and used in order to use the water more efficiently and avoid the waste of essential freshwater for human and another living organism’s consumption (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp. 161-162). “Soil testing before fertilization is conducted and using organic fertilizers is promoted to reduce the use of fertilizer” (Zhang et al., 2015, pp. 1000), “minimize soil tillage on cotton cropland in order to prevent soil to air emissions, minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers in general and nitrogen fertilizers in particular, because these are an important source of N2O emissions, minimize the burning of cotton crop residues where still applied, and recycle these for soil fertility management when not used as a fuel for cooking and heating” (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp. 162), production of organic cotton, “crop rotation is an alternative practice to fertilizer application for achieving soil fertility” (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp. 216). The major limitations to most of these solutions are the awareness and the agricultural knowledge of the farmers, cotton is grown in different part of the world and the awareness of the farmers highly varies, some of them even think more fertilizers means higher yield (Zhang et al., 2015, pp. 1000). In addition, some of these methods, like the suggested irrigation techniques are relatively expensive to incorporate, switch to organic practices may reduce the yield by up to 50% in the ?rst few years after switching to organic practices (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp. 216), which also add limitations to motivate farmers to use such techniques. Moreover, when we talk about the production of organic cotton, we see that it does have relatively lesser effect on environment when compare to traditional cotton cultivation but when we look form the Life Cycle perspective, it does make the cultivation step greener but still the further processing requires steps like dying, “which is far to be considered as a sustainable practice and has deleterious effects on the environment preservation” (F.A. Esteve-Turrillas, M. de la Guardia, 2017, pp.115). Hence, to analyse the further impact of textile lifecycle on environment, let’s go deep into our next topic.


1.2           Manufacturing

Moving from cultivation to manufacturing of textile, in this part of our paper we discuss the process involved in the manufacturing of textile products, e.g. cloth, and their impact or can say the adverse effect on the environment. The main steps involved in the manufacturing from raw cotton to final product are ginning, spinning, knitting, dyeing/bleaching, washing and softening (Zhang, 2015, G. Baydar et al., 2015). 

The complete manufacturing process involves heavy use of freshwater, energy and chemicals. All the three components heavily impact the environment in one way or the other.  The above-mentioned manufacturing steps have an impact on either one or more components. Let’s start with ginning and spinning, both the processes are generally machine operated and use huge amount of energy (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp.162). Whereas, knitting is one of the mechanical processes, which require less electric energy but more mechanical energy. Further comes the fabric wet processing, which includes the pre-treatment, coloring, and finishing of a product (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp.217). The fabric wet processing is a series of the process which is impacting the environment in multiple directions, which include, all the three components mentioned above. “Pre-treatment removes natural sizing materials such as water-insoluble starches, non-cellulosic impurities and foreign matter like waxes, proteins, ashes and unwanted natural coloring”.  Coloring, dyeing, bleaching involves the use of water multiple times for multiple processing, involving different set of chemicals every time and the whole process is generally automated and run fully by the machinery lead to the use of heavy energy and heavy chemicals to process of input cotton (G. Baydar et al., 2015, pp.217). All such treatments lead to chemical effects such as toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, and even greenhouse emissions (Roos et al., 2015, pp.243). “The machines using components like radiators, tumbler dryers are basically using high energy lead to emissions which in turn leading to the contribution in global warming potential” (Roos et al., 2015, pp.232, 4). “The wastewater that ?ows in the drains corrodes and scales up the sewerage pipes. If allowed to ?ow into drains and rivers it affects the quality of the drinking water in hand pumps making it un?t for human consumption. It also leads to leakage in drains increasing their maintenance costs” (M. Bevilacqua et al., 2014, pp. 162).


After the analyses of the manufacturing face, we got to know that this is the most dangerous step involving the use to heavy chemicals which are leading to adverse impact not only on the environment but also on the living organisms’ including humans. “Regarding thermal energy consumptions, some improvements in dying plants (recover cooling water, return steam condensate to boilers or reuse different process waters) may allow the company to decrease in CO2 emission by 41.7%. Moreover, a reduction in CO2 emissions by 34.6% can be achieved in the spinning phase using an optimized suction tube in conjunction with adjustable inverter control” Further to reduce the energy consumption or to make the use of energy more efficient things like heating and lighting energy requirements can be reduced through sensible conservation measures. Dyeing and ?nishing facilities use signi?cant quantities of energy for steam, power for motors, direct heat for drying, air compressors, air conditioning and cooling, recovering cooling water and use it as heated input water, returning steam condensate to boilers, reusing different process waters, examining the ef?ciency of existing heat exchangers. To reduce the impact of the chemicals the treatment of wastewater is highly suggested to remove the colors and other harmful chemicals, but the removal of the dyes and the colors is a costly process which makes it a limitation to motivate the producer to treat the wastewater (M. Bevilacqua et al., pp.153-164). On the contrary, there are technologies like “Recover technology, based on the use of upcycled raw materials and a smart selection of colored ?bers, avoids both, cotton cultivation and dyeing environmental side effects and replaces the impacts of ginning to those of a cutting/shredding step. Furthermore, the recycling of industrial cotton wastes offers a second life for the product, thus reducing the deleterious effects and cost of disposal and/or incineration.” (F.A. Esteve-Turrillas, M. de la Guardia, 2017, pp.115, 3).