ARE BRANDS MAKING US WEAR DIRTY FASHION?
The alarming level of unsustainable fashion can be figured out from the fact that the fast-fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, next to oil. The pollution starts right from the production of fibres – be it cotton, synthetic fibre or even viscose. Changing Markets Foundation, in its recently released report ‘Dirty Fashion: On track for transformation’, discusses about viscose pollution and a roadmap towards responsible viscose manufacturing.
Viscose, which is considered to be biodegradable, has not been able to ramp up as a sustainable alternative because of the existing production and sourcing methods. The report highlights sourcing wood pulp from ancient and endangered forests and extensive use of toxic and corrosive chemicals at wet processing stage which makes viscose one of the most irresponsibly produced fibres. It must be noted here that the pesticides used in cultivation of microfibres, released after washing of synthetic fibres, end up in water bodies, killing marine life, and polluting water as well.
As per the report, carbon disulphide (CS ), a toxic and endocrine-disrupting chemical and the most important chemical in viscose production, is the criminal behind causing insanity and subtler personality changes. Apart from this, its prolonged exposure leads to damaged nerves of sensory capacity, kidney disease, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, heart attack, and stroke. The chemical can be present in both water and air.
A by-product of spinning, hydrogen sulphide (H S) is a toxic gas that causes irritation of the eyes, function impairment, and neurobehavioural changes. The toxic gas smells of rotten eggs.
Lenzing’s production sites at Lenzing (Austria) and Nanjing (China) are in compliance with EU BAT values and it has also been awarded the EU Ecolabel certification. The Group performs its responsibility towards health and safety of its employees with ‘Heartbeat for Health & Safety’ program. It includes inspections of factories, trainings, and workshops.
Other harmful chemicals for health and environment are sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sulphuric acid (H SO ). NaOH can be highly toxic if absorbed through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, and is known to cause corrosion, skin burns, and eye damage to workers who handle it frequently and without protection.
On the other hand, H SO is a highly corrosive, clear, and colourless oily liquid. It can result in adverse health effects from inhalation such as a burning sensation and shortness of breath. Evidence suggests that occupational exposure to sulphuric acid mists in combination with other acid mists can be carcinogenic.
Lack of proper chemical management from producers’ side allows these toxic substances and gases to be released in the environment, thus affecting the nature.
Realising the level of damage viscose production has done to the environment, various viscose producers have partnered with the CanopyStyle initiative or signed up the ‘Detox’ commitments with Greenpeace. However, none of these commitments ensure responsibly produced viscose.
Changing Markets Foundation helped the global viscose producers by developing a Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing. The Roadmap provides a blueprint for brands, retailers, and producers to move towards responsible viscose manufacturing, whereby chemical inputs are captured and reused instead of being released into the environment (see Figure 1).
The Roadmap is intended to help manufacturers drive the transition to closed-loop production, defined as a system that ensures emission controls and chemical recovery rates in-line with EU Best Available Techniques (BAT) (see Table 1). It is important to note that EU BAT only covers viscose staple fibre ( VSF) manufacturing, but not viscose filament yarn ( VFY).
The report stresses that the Roadmap is not a certification scheme but includes to-do principles for sustainable sourcing policies, namely:
1. Brands should ensure that their suppliers have all requisite environmental permits and comply with relevant national and local regulations;
2. Producers should introduce plans for appropriate chemical management systems, in-line with EU BAT, with the ultimate goal of moving towards closed-loop production;
3. Measures should be in-place to protect workers and local inhabitants from exposure to dangerous chemicals;
4. Energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals should be set;
5. Environmental damage in the surrounding environment should be remediated.
There are seven retailers who have signed up to Changing Market’s Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing and have also asked their viscose suppliers to shift to ‘closedloop’ production being in line with EU BAT. Lenzing and Aditya Birla Group (ABG) are the two largest viscose producers in the world which have already started working in making their sites compliant with the requirements of Roadmap.
Companies setting example in sustainable viscose production
ABG’s Nagda (India) unit conducts regular monitoring of air and water quality in accordance with Pollution Control Board (PCB) Server. Its Indo-Bharat (IBR) unit in Purwakarta, Indonesia, has all the valid permits for the plant’s entire environmental management system, including legal compliance.
Both the units have installed exhaust systems to collect waste gas and direct it to chimneys or gas treatment systems. There is a gas collection system installed at the regeneration process, collecting all the gases.
In order to keep their workers safe and healthy from exposure to gases, ABG has provided proper respiratory protection to them. It further necessitates all workers to undergo a comprehensive annual medical check-up (including inspection of heart, eyesight, hearing, urine and blood tests, dental, lungs etc.).
It also claims to have reduced specific energy consumption related to VSF manufacturing by more than 5 per cent at its units over the past three years.
Lenzing’s production sites at Lenzing (Austria) and Nanjing (China) are in compliance with EU BAT values and it has also been awarded the EU Ecolabel certification.
The Group performs its responsibility towards health and safety of its employees with ‘Heartbeat for Health & Safety’ program. It includes inspections of factories, trainings, and workshops. In another commendable initiative, Lenzing has introduced ‘ Whistleblowing Directive,’ through which employees can report potential violations of code of business, laws, regulations, and internal policies.
Some of the biggest Chinese viscose producers are also in the process of developing their own industry-led initiative for sustainable viscose. China’s largest viscose producers such as Sateri and Tanghan Sanyou have come together under the Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose in partnership with China Chemical Fibre Association and China Cotton Textile Association to adopt industry best practices and certification standards in a timebound framework. The Changing Markets Foundation is already playing a key role in helping these Chinese producers to apply principles and guidelines as per the Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing.
Figure 1: Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing