04/25/2022 | Environmental | 8 MINUTE READ

Water Waste in the Textile Industry & Environmental Impacts

Textile Industry Shop

Nearly every industry produces at least some amount of waste during operations. This waste can be anything from chemical waste to water waste. Among the most damaging types of waste that can negatively impact the environment is water waste, which comes in many different forms an can be highly damaging to the environment. Along with water pollution, many industrial processes use up a considerable amount of water because of general inefficiency.

This is a global problem that’s prevalent in almost all industries but is particularly noticeable in the textile industry. When looking specifically at water waste, a single t-shirt requires more than 700 gallons of water to produce, which is enough water for a single person to drink for over two years. The overall inefficiency of many industrial processes means that water waste inevitably occurs.

Because many countries don’t have strict guidelines on water waste, industrial plants and facilities aren’t motivated to improve their processes and lessen the amount of waste that occurs. Standard water waste is an issue because of the scarcity of water. It’s a finite resource that is being used far too much for industrial processes. As for water pollution, the industrial processes that use water will produce a certain amount of waste.

While industrial facilities are tasked with treating this water, some facilities may attempt to bypass these rules and discharge the contaminated water into the environment. When this occurs, the contaminants in the water will seep into all facets of the environment. Water waste and water pollution affect animal health, ecology, and groundwater pollution. This article offers an in-depth guide on water waste in the textile industry and how it impacts the environment.

Ocean pollution on beach

The Global Impact of Water Waste in the Textile Industry

Water waste and water pollution have a global impact on people. No matter where someone lives, there are invariably numerous industrial plants and facilities nearby that produce water pollution. This issue is particularly prevalent in countries that don’t have water treatment guidelines for facilities to adhere to before releasing water into the environment. Once this pollution reaches waterways, it can affect nearly every body of water.

To understand just how dangerous contaminated water can be, keep in mind that upwards of 3.5 million people die from drinking contaminated and unclean water every year. The contaminants that exist in this water can lead to the development of serious waterborne illnesses. While this issue is more commonplace in developing countries, it’s still a problem in the U.S. because of how water waste and pollution affect the environment. Some statistics that show just how damaging water waste and pollution can be include:

  • Every t-shirt requires around 715 gallons of water to produce
  • The textile industry used nearly 80 billion cubic meters of water in 2015 alone
  • Around 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are brought about during clothing production
  • 500,000 tons of microfibers are sent into ocean waters every year as a result of washing synthetics
  • The textile industry alone is responsible for upwards of 35% of all micro plastics that are released into the environment

These statistics are displayed in this Europa article. What these statistics show is that the textile industry causes a considerable amount of water waste and water pollution, both of which are damaging to the environment. While there are a high number of water treatments that can be used in the textile industry, not every facility will abide by the water treatment standards that have been set by the industry as well as the EPA.

Water Treatment Plant

Water Treatment Standards in the Textile Industry

When looking at the types of water treatment standards that the textile industry is tasked to abide by, keep in mind that the standards and guidelines can differ from country to country. In many cases, the guidelines aren’t strict enough to push facilities to get rid of contaminants before discharging wastewater into the environment. However, many programs have been started for the purpose of encouraging the major companies in the textile industry to reduce the amount of water waste they produce.

Keep in mind that facilities in the textile industry use as much as 20,000 different chemicals in the production of clothes. Many of these chemicals have proven to be carcinogenic, which is why it’s important that textile plants treat wastewater before sending it into the environment.

One of the programs that is focused on pushing textile companies and facilities to reduce their water waste was started by the Natural Resources Defense Council. This group’s goal is to fight for each person’s right to clean water, clean air, and a fully healthy community. Their Clean By Design initiative involves working directly with apparel brands and retailers to use the buyer power than these companies have as a form of leverage to clean up all of the factories that are part of their main supply chains.

This program maintains a 10-step guide that contains best practices on how to save fuel, electricity, and water. Factories are also encouraged to track how much electricity, fuel, and water they use during standard operations. During 2014, each mill that participated in the Clean By Design initiative was able to lessen water use by as much as 36%. By lessening water, fuel, and electricity use, every mill saved around $500,000 per year.

There have also been plenty of other initiatives centered around helping textile plants reduce their water waste. Among the more recent initiatives is the closed-loop water recycling system from Waste2Fresh. The purpose of this initiative is to provide textile companies with a sustainable water recycling system that allows factories to reuse water many times.

Their goal is to create a system that gives factories the ability to reuse water indefinitely. As mentioned previously, more than 700 gallons of water are used to produce a single t-shirt. The textile industry as a whole uses around 4% of all global freshwater annually. If widely adopted, this type of system could cut down significantly on the amount of water that textile plants use on a daily basis.

Ocean fish around coral

Sustainable Solutions to the Textile Industry Water Waste Problem

The textile plants and facilities that make the decision to reduce their water waste issues have numerous treatments that they can use to reduce water pollution. The many treatments that can get rid of the contaminants in textile industry wastewater can be separated into conventional treatments and membrane filtration treatments. When looking specifically at the conventional treatments, the most popular ones among textile facilities include coagulation, sand filtration, activated sludge, adsorption, and oxidation.

The performance of these treatments depends on when and how they are used. For instance, treatments like activated sludge have been widely adopted in the textile industry and are able to get rid of high chemical oxygen demand in the water. Other treatments like coagulation help to rid the water of any dyes and are able to assist with water reuse. As for membrane filtration, the main types of filtration that are used in textile plants include ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis.

These systems are outfitted with a semi-permeable membrane that can effectively stop large particles and contaminants from passing through, which means that only clean water gets through. Membrane filtration has proven to be highly effective at getting rid of more than 99% of contaminants in a sample of water. There are many types of water quality sensors that can be used in heavy industrial settings to help with the prevention and ongoing maintenance of pollution.

For instance, a high-quality conductivity sensor can be used to detect the water’s ability to pass electrical flow. These readings will allow you to calculate the amount of total dissolved solids that are currently in the water.

A high TDS reading means that the water is polluted and needs to be treated. If you take readings with a conductivity sensor once the necessary treatment has been applied to the water, you should be able to determine if the treatment was effective. Keep in mind that conductivity can also be measured with the Peek Toroidal Sensor.

Spools of thread

Looking Forward

The textile industry has been causing high amounts of water waste and water pollution for years. Water pollution alone has caused practically irreparable harm to many wildlife and aquatic ecosystems. Several million people die each and every year by drinking polluted and contaminated water. While these issues went unchecked for quite some time, many governments and non-profit organizations are starting to take notice.

Along with the different water treatment guidelines that governments can maintain, numerous initiatives have been founded for the purpose of pushing companies in the textile industry to waste less water and treat water before discharging it into the environment. If the closed-loop system mentioned previously can be widely adopted, facilities may be able to reuse water indefinitely, which can pay dividends when it comes to helping the environment.

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Posted by Dominic O'Donnell on April 25, 2022

Sensorex is a global leader in the design and manufacture of quality sensors for water quality and process applications. The company offers more than 2000 sensor packages for pH, ORP, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, free chlorine, chlorine dioxide, UV transmittance and other specialty measurements, as well as a full line of sensor accessories and transmitters. Its expert technical support engineers solve analytical sensor challenges with custom designs and off the shelf products.

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