Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection


Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection
By Keith Slater

Environmental impact of textiles


Preface ix
1 Structure and stability of the ecosystem 1
1.1 The ecosystem 1
1.2 Life 1
1.3 Necessities of life 2
1.4 Other species 4
1.5 Land hazards 6
1.6 Dust 6
1.7 Atomic radiation 7
1.8 The Earth’s environment 7
1.9 Environmental balance 7
1.10 The textile industry 8
References 8
2 The health of our planet 9
2.1 Planetary stability 9
2.2 Natural factors 9
2.3 Human interference 10
2.4 Changes occurring 14
3 The nature of textiles 17
3.1 Properties 17
3.2 Textiles as engineering materials 17
3.3 Principles of textile manufacture 18
3.4 Energy 18
4 Textile fibre production 23
4.1 Scope of the industry 23
4.2 Natural fibre production 23
4.3 Artificial fibre production 31
4.4 Alternative fibre sources 34
4.5 Inorganic fibres 34
4.6 Microbiologically stable fibres 37
4.7 Effects on the planet 37
References 37
5 Yarn production 40
5.1 Starting material state 40
5.2 Washing 42
5.3 Scouring 42
5.4 Bleaching 44
5.5 Carbonising 46
5.6 Drying needs 48
5.7 Baling 48
5.8 Transportation 49
5.9 Opening 52
5.10 Carding 53
5.11 Blending 53
5.12 Combing and gilling 53
5.13 Drawing 54
5.14 Spinning 54
5.15 Noise and dust 55
References 59
6 Fabric production 61
6.1 Traditional fabric production methods 61
6.2 Other methods 63
References 68
7 Fabric treatment processes 69
7.1 Starting material 69
7.2 Finishing categories 69
7.3 Mechanical finishing 70
7.4 Chemical treatments 71
7.5 Other finishes 74
7.6 Colouration 81
7.7 Pollution aspects 82
7.8 Printing 85
7.9 Drying and shipping 87
References 88
8 Use of textiles 90
8.1 Primary and secondary production 90
8.2 Types of use 90
8.3 Normal uses 91
8.4 Environmental aspects 92
8.5 Household textiles 93
8.6 Industrial and medical uses 94
References 97
9 Environmental protection 98
9.1 Commitment 98
9.2 Protective applications 99
9.3 Legislation 100
9.4 Future prospects 101
9.5 Financial benefits 101
9.6 Costs 102
9.7 Drawbacks 102
9.8 Recycling 107
9.9 Pollution measurement problems 109
9.10 Environmental auditing 109
References 112
10 Effects on textiles of natural exposure 115
10.1 Influences 115
10.2 Degradation 115
10.3 Atmospheric influences 117
10.4 Radiation 119
10.5 Changes occurring 121
10.6 Infrared radiation 122
10.7 Other types of radiation 122
10.8 Mechanical action 123
10.9 Mechanical stress in manufacture 126
10.10 Mechanical stress in use 127
10.11 Prediction of effects 128
10.12 Degradative combinations 130
10.13 Magnitude of textile environmental damage contributions 134
References 138
11 Thermal exposure 139
11.1 Intensity 139
11.2 Static drying 140
11.3 Stenters 141
11.4 New equipment 144
11.5 Problems 144
11.6 Novel approaches 145
11.7 Flammability 146
References 151
12 Chemical and microbiological attack 152
12.1 Reagents 152
12.2 Fibre type 153
12.3 Planned attack 154
12.4 Microbiological attack 155
References 160
13 Protection of, or by, textiles from environmental damage 161
13.1 Aspects 161
13.2 Maintenance 162
13.3 Degradation during use 162
13.4 Chemical treatments 163
13.5 Protection of humans 163
13.6 Modern developments 166
13.7 Non-clothing protective needs 169
13.8 Protection for the environment 171
13.9 Desirable properties 174
References 175
14 Conclusions 178
Appendix 183
Section 1 Cotton scouring with enzymes 183
Section 2 Wool scouring with enzymes 187
Section 3 Bleaching with peroxide 189
Section 4 Sizing and desizing 190
Section 5 Pollution reduction in dyeing 191
Section 6 Medical applications of textiles 194
Section 7 Textile filters 196
Section 8 Sporting goods and other uses 196
Section 9 Effluent treatment 197
Section 10 Recycling 201
References 203
Index 207

A piece of clothing, or any other textile article, is a very difficult and expensive product to manufacture. But not only does it cost a lot of money – our usual way of estimating how much inherent value should be placed on an item – it is expensive in another, more important, way, one which might conceivably make even money ultimately redundant. It harms the environment, the protective envelope under which we all live. If the environment is destroyed, then so are we. Let me hasten to add that the manufacture of textile goods does not provide the only, or even the most severe, stress to which our planet is subjected. There are many other products that can damage the Earth’s well-being, but the textile industry is often blamed (perhaps unfairly) far more than it deserves. The reasons are, I believe, two-fold. First, textiles are a widespread, virtually universal product, familiar to practically the entire population of the world. Second, the kind of undesirable effect that textile manufacture has on the planet is often very tangible. We see dyestuffs colouring rivers or black clouds of smoke rising from the chimney over a finishing plant. We hear the cacophony emerging from a weaving shed, twisting room or spinning mill as machines shriek noisily at us. We see the remnants of discarded clothing littering a street or rubbish dump. We see diesel trucks belching fumes as they are driven into or out of a textile plant to deliver raw materials or shipped goods.

So we need to investigate the actual relationship between textiles and the environment. It is important to note from the beginning that this investigation has a double-edged meaning. The manufacture and use of textile goods can have an adverse effect on the environment, but the environment can also have, in an ironic twist, an adverse effect on textile goods. The former of these effects we normally lump together under the term ‘pollution’ and the latter we describe as ‘degradation’ of the materials.

Before we can start our investigation, though, we need to be clear about what we mean by the environment. All the evidence that I have observed on the subject leads me to believe that there is not really any widespread understanding of what is actually meant by this nebulous term. We hear references to the social environment, or to the physical one, or to other such differentiations of the word into a range of individual aspects. At the outset, then, I intend to define what aspects of the environment I shall be including in this book.

In simple terms, what I hope to do is to examine what effects all phases of textile production and use have on the Earth around us, from growing or making fibres to discarding a product after its useful life has ended. I shall look at the physical environment, including the air, the water and the land. I shall also look briefly at the biological environment by considering what happens, as a result of manufacture, to other species on the planet, as well as to human beings. The effects I will be considering are not only those on our bodies, but also on our minds. The social environment as it impinges on our psychological, physical and physiological comfort will be part of the discussion, as also will our financial well-being. In short, I regard the environment as encompassing all aspects of every part of our lives. To the best of my knowledge, this comprehensive approach has not been undertaken before and has never previously been associated with textile production and use.

In a sense, then, this book is a pioneering one, yet it is not strictly a new one. All it does is pull together a wide range of examples drawn from a diverse collection of sources and integrate them to form a new and coherent set of ideas. If it informs, educates or amuses you in the process, I shall be delighted.

My approach might seem odd for a book that is supposed to be about textiles. I intend to deal first with the environment itself in some detail, to ensure that my starting position is understood. In this way I hope to persuade you to accept the truth, as I believe it, of the situation we, as a species, find ourselves in today and what the textile industry has contributed to this position. I intend to be entirely honest so that, if I feel that the industry is to blame for some harmful aspect or condition, I shall lay the blame squarely. Conversely, if I feel that the textile community is the victim of accusations that are giving it an undeserved reputation, or if some of its practices are not receiving the praise that is due to it, I will be equally conscientious in pointing out these facts.

For this reason, I shall begin the book with chapters dealing with our fragile environment and our dependence, together with that of all the other species occupying the Earth, on its well-being. I shall examine the conditions needed to ensure a healthy, stable planet and look at what any deviation from these conditions can do to a range of species. I shall then take a closer look at how the human race, in general, has brought about undesirable changes in the planet’s health. Aspects of resource depletion, pollution and energy use will be covered. In all of these areas, to keep the focus on textiles, I shall try to find suitable examples of where the industry fits into the overall picture.

Then, in the rest of the book, I shall focus more directly on textile matters. I hope first to provide a complete survey of how developments in the industry and consumers of its products have affected the planet’s health in the past. Then I will look at modern solutions that have often been proposed by ‘experts’ in areas other than textiles but adopted by the industry in the hope that some alleviation of problems can be achieved without sacrificing high textile production targets. After showing that this aim is unrealistic, I shall discuss the real ways in which the industry is responding to the challenge of keeping our planet healthy and conclude with my view of the future. In this, I hope to persuade readers that the planet can indeed be saved without abandoning all our cherished lifestyle, but that we need to be vigilant in every step we take, as individuals as well as representatives of a great and essential industry, to ensure that unfair blame is not allocated to us by outside observers.

Each chapter will be divided into sections allowing subjects to be kept separate and cross-references to a specific topic to remain simple. I hope to engage both the general reader who is interested in the subject as a whole and the specialist reader who would like to follow in more detail the particular points on which I focus. With this in mind, in some chapters, I will only deal with the highlights of a topic, but will make reference to further relevant work in the Appendix, where the more technical aspects are summarised. There, I will provide references, to enable readers interested in each specific point to obtain more detailed information. Categories of pollution production, as listed in Table 1.1, will be identified by an asterisk, in parentheses and bold, italic type.

My ultimate aim is to address and correct some of the fallacies shared by many people, both within and outside the industry, about the real effects of textile manufacture and use on the environment. If I am successful, we should see a more caring, clean and respected industry (which will also, almost certainly, be a more profitable one) emerging in the future.

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