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Anniversary Special | October 2015

Sustainable textiles and their importance

For textiles to be sustainable, they have to be made from renewable resources, and should have good ecological footprints, feels Saravanan M.

Sustainable textiles are textiles (or fabrics) that are grown and created in an environmentally friendly way, using minimal chemicals. Because chemicals are not used in sustainable textiles, there are less health problems that are associated with chemicals such as headaches, allergies, skin irritation, and respiratory problems. The most suitable definition of sustainability recommended by the world commission on environment and development is ´meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their needs and desires´. In recent times sustainability is a leading characteristic of textile fashion products. Textile fashion companies are focusing more on sustainable products these days, so that they can meet the environmental and social aspects. For getting competitive advantage in fashion business the companies have to take care of social, political and economic issues, and they must be aware of current trends of the market. Sustainable fibres provide solution for the companies facing issues regarding environmental problems.

Relying on polluting textile materials like cotton and polyester may become a thing of the past as a new range of eco-fabrics emerge, often made from materials that would otherwise go to waste. Some of these environmentally friendly fabrics are already in use, like those made of coconut husks, recycled plastic bottles, wood pulp and corn, while others are strange and futuristic, sourced from hagfish slime, fermented wine, spoiled milk and genetically engineered bacteria.

Conventional process drawbacks
Heavy metals are constituents of some dyes and pigments. They can also be found in natural fibres due to absorption by plants through soil. Metals may also be introduced into textiles through dyeing and finishing processes. Once absorbed by humans, heavy metals tend to accumulate in internal organs such as the liver or kidney. The effects on health can be tremendous when high levels of accumulation are reached. For example, high levels of lead can seriously affect the nervous system2. Heavy metals very often refer to: antimony (Sb), arsenic (As), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), copper (Cu), chromium (VI) (Cr(VI)), total chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni)The textile industry produces and uses approximately 1.3 mt of dyes, pigments and dye precursors, valued at around $23 billion, almost all of which is manufactured synthetically. However, synthetic dyes have some limitations, primarily, (i) their production process requires hazardous chemicals, creating worker safety concerns, (ii) they may generate hazardous wastes, and (iii) these dyes are not environment friendly. Dyeing is the one which is an ancient art that predates written records.

It was practised during the Bronze age in Europe. Primitive dyeing techniques included sticking plants to fabric or rubbing crushed pigments into cloth. Some of the well known ancient dyes include madder, a red dye made from the roots of the Rubia tinctorum, blue indigo from the leaves of Indigofera tinctoria, yellow from the stigmas of the saffron plant, and dogwood, an extract of pulp of the dogwood tree. The first use of the blue dye, woad, beloved by the Ancient Britons, may have originated in Palestine where it was found growing wild. Special attention should be paid to the selection of dyes and chemical auxiliaries. This includes keeping products free of hazardous substances such as formaldehyde, pesticides and toxic heavy metals. This trend for green consumerism has been extended to textile and apparel products. The products involved are those having potential for direct and prolonged skin or oral contact such as clothing, bedding, towels, hair

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