Gandhi used Khadi as a symbol of unity. It not only united the nation but also made us swādhῑn. The story of cloth unfurls the history of the human kind and the emergence of pollution. The textile production has been the most polluting industry, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year which is more than the pollution caused by international flights and maritime shipping.
Clothing is essential component of our life. The journey of clothing evolved from leaves, hides, cotton to synthetic material. Initially clothing was a necessity, and then it became important for trade, making relations with the foreign land. Soon, it became a symbol of aristocracy and now it is just a fashion statement. Till early nineteenth century, India was the major exporter of textiles like calicoes, chintz and muslin and had dominated the world trade but later due to mercantilism and industrialization in Europe, the destruction of Indian handicrafts begun. It was the invention of steam engine and the power loom which started infesting the society by mass production at cheap rate and exploiting the resources of the third world. It was responsible for creating the problem of mass dumping, conspicuous consumerism, polluting the environment and pulling the world away from sustainability. Have we ever given a thought how much a simple cloth has evolved from being natural weaved and tailored from hand to synthetic manufactured in factory and its effect on our environment?
Cotton is a thirsty crop and requires pesticides to grow and its production has greater impacts on land and water. On the other hand polyester is derived from oil. Overall, the carbon emission of polyester is more than that of cotton. Textile dyeing results in additional hazards as untreated wastewater from dyes are often discharged into local water systems, these dyes such as azodye react with the water and result in the formation of toxic complex. They even release heavy metals and other toxicants that can adversely impact the health of humans, flora and fauna in that area. These toxicants may enter the food chain as the contaminated water can be used for the irrigation of agricultural fields, consumption of contaminated fishes and percolation and mixing with the ground water of the region. Further implications would be bioaccumulation and biomagnification of toxicants.
Is it human need or greed which has led to the destruction of the environment? Fast fashion is the mantra. Clothing is produced with new designs on shorter time frames appearing every few weeks to satisfy demand for the latest trends. It is leading to the production of garments which have a shorter lifespan, low quality, low cost and frequent consumption. This industry at present leads to sale of about one-third of the garments produced, one-third is sold at discount, while the remaining one-third garments are disposed as deadstock in landfill in the developed nations. The developed nations have shifted their textile production unit in developing or under developed countries which has its own pros and cons.
Yes, it does provide livelihood and is considered as one of the largest industry to generate employment in countries like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. But this lucrative deal comes with its own consequences. They exploit the natural resources; the price at which these clothes are sold does not truly reflect the exact cost of the product. The price does not take into the account environmental and social cost. Low and middle income countries produce 90% of the world’s clothing. These countries have poor enforcement of occupational and safety standards usually due to poor political infrastructure and lack in organizational management. People employed in this occupation suffer from life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer, damage to endocrine function, adverse reproductive and fetal outcomes, overuse injuries, and death. The health hazard faced by workers of textile industry can be exemplified by the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed more than a thousand Bangladeshi workers.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12, deals with the responsible consumption and production. It seeks to reduce the injustice caused by unfettered materialism. The fundamental changes required in fast fashion is the deceleration of manufacturing , introduction of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain and shifting consumer behaviour to slow fashion. The main stakeholder for a more sustainable fashion industry involves policymakers, industry, retailers and most importantly the consumers. Involvement of the entire stakeholders is necessary for a new pricing system on the basis of environmental impact, for a sustainable fashion industry. The policymakers have to come up with legislations, regulations and law which will ensure strict compliance of green energy certification by producer of textile industries. Adoption of internationally recognised certification criteria globally is required to encourage eco-friendly practices that promote health and safety across the supply chain. Implementation of green tax on such garments can also be used as a solution. High shelf life and improved quality of garments are required to be produced so that environmental justice is carried out. Policy for extended producer responsibility should be made mandatory. Sustainable business practices have to be implemented and effective inspection to be carried out. Practices should be such that they promote reduction of environmental pollution and minimize the exploitation of people or natural resources in meeting lifestyle needs.
Proactive methods designed make garments that minimize cutting waste and nearly use all the cuts into production. Material recycling at the end of the product life is required for a circular fashion industry. Post consumer waste is heterogeneously composed which can be technically sorted by using near infrared technology. The different techniques used for the material recycling are mechanical fibre recycling in this textile is shredded into short fibres; chemical recycling where fibres are reduced by a chemical dissolving process into the polymer level; and thermal recycling where thermoplastics like polyesters are melt-spun through the same process as the original thermoplastic fibres. Recycling of polyester requires less energy than original production and reduced emissions.
Thus, textile industry should invest in pollution controlling technology, avoid surplus production, prevent waste, close the material loop and treat effluents at the source. Retailers must take into account pricing system in which impact on society and environment is considered. New business models should be adopted which believe in slower consumption and circular economy. It boils down to the attitude of consumer. They should go for conscious and slow consumption with extended use time of products.
The journey from need to conspicuous consumerism has changed us and has negatively affected our surroundings. We are inherited by the culture of less is more, and simple living and high thinking. It is deep rooted in us. To conserve and preserve our environment, we have to change our behaviour and show gratitude towards Mother Nature.