Fast Fashion: How its Polluting our Water 

Arvia News | Arvia Technology
November 2019

Dr. Akmez Nabeerasool is a Senior Project Manager at Arvia Technology, a provider of advanced tertiary water and wastewater treatment systems. Here he discusses the issue of water pollution in the fashion industry; 

The fashion industry is now the second largest generator of pollution on Earth after the oil industry, which is driven by the escalating trend of ‘fast fashion’ 

The fashion industry is dependent on water with the majority of the manufacturing processes reliant on it. To put it in perspective, one cotton t-shirt uses enough drinking water to sustain one human for three years; 2,700 litres.  

Multiply that by 20 garments a year for 7.7 billion people and you begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem. As reference, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water to produce a ton of dyed fabric. 

We are increasing our personal use and depleting our usable supplies of water simultaneously, at such a rate that demand will outstrip supply by 2030**.   

We are both using excessive quantities of water during the manufacturing process, while also expelling huge amounts of contaminated wastewater back into the environment. 

Chemicals in fast fashion

Chemicals are a key component during the manufacturing process of clothes. Chemicals are used during the fiber production, dyeing, bleaching, and wet processing of each of our garments,  

Over 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used in the various processes that turn raw material into fabricsAs an estimate, it takes 200 tons of water to produce 1 ton of dyed fabric. This requires sourcing fresh water and releasing water that is tainted, rendered toxic, undrinkable or otherwise polluted back into the ecosystem. 

A large majority of textile manufacturing occurs along waterways of the developing world. The harmful effect of pollution on communities which rely on waterways for their food, watering livestock and sustenance, is immeasurable. 

Wastewater produced during the manufacturing process is often discharged directly into rivers and waterways, meaning it should comply with discharge regulation to avoid polluting the environment and causing irreparable damage. However, this is often not the case.  

Unfortunately, these chemicals are often still present in wastewater, even in trace levels, when they are discharged into the environment, which has been proven to cause lasting damage. 

Removing pollutants from water

However, the process of treating wastewater itself is not without its challenges 

In traditional wastewater treatment processes such as Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs) combined with Hydrogen Peroxide, Fenton’s reagent (a combination of chemicals) and Reverse Osmosis, large doses of chemicals including biocides are used to eradicate contaminants or prevent the processes from fouling and blocking 

This brings with it a substantial ongoing operating cost along with a toxic sludge which similarly needs to be treated.  

The sludge created through using chemicals is incinerated or sent to landfillwhich is equally as damaging to the environment. 

These chemical reliant methods can also fail to target trace level pollutants which are extremely difficult to remove. 

The final stage of water treatment known as tertiary or quaternary, has always been challenging, and as a result, it’s now become a necessity for industries to use a combination of processes for an effective treatment result 

Environmentally friendly wastewater treatment

Advanced technology has been developed to fill the gap in the market for environmentally friendly treatment systems which avoid the use of chemicals and target the final upper percentile which normally goes untreated. 

Arvia’s Nyex™ processes are a tertiary treatment stage, meaning they are designed as a final ‘polishing’ step for the persistent hard to treat contaminants. The technology can help textile manufacturers meet the many strict discharge consent limits with respect to organics in the form of chemical oxygen demand (COD), colour and specific hazardous chemicals such as Nonylphenols.  

Arvia’s solution has successfully treated effluent from cotton dye houses, various laundry wastewater’s and dye wastewater. The technology negates the need for chemicals, and targets specific pollutants with a combination of adsorption and electrochemical oxidation 

Rather than dosing wastewater with chemicals, the water percolates through a carbon-based media which the organic pollutants ‘stick’ to. A low electrical current is applied to the bed of media to oxidise the organics and simultaneously regenerate the surface of the media to allow for further treatment. 

It’s clear that environmentally-friendly wastewater treatment must form part of an industry wide effort to counteract pollutants entering the environment.  

Wastewater reuse and compliance

Fortunately, the tide is beginning turn as consumers and businesses alike become more aware of the potential damage the fast fashion industry is causing  

More stringent regulation and fines for businesses found polluting the environment with wastewater will undoubtedly bring change.  

Businesses who use water in their manufacturing processes must take responsibility and utilise the latest technology before its too late.  Rapid advances in water treatment technology mean organisations can now treat wastewater in an environmentally considerate way, whilst being able to reuse as much as possible in process and vitally, ensuring all water discharge regulations are met.  

Arvia Technology has treated challenging wastewater from the textiles, agricultural, chemical, electronics, oil and gas and pharmaceutical industries in Europe and Asia. 

**https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/dotcom/client_service/sustainability/pdfs/charting%20our%20water%20future/charting_our_water_future_full_report_.ashx  

Fast fashion in the textiles industry

Originally published in Open Access Government

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