Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection

Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection

Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection

Environmental Impact of Textiles: Production, Processes and Protection


CONTENTS Structure and stability of the ecosystem; The health of our planet; The nature of textiles; Textile fibre production; Yarn production; Fabric production; Fabric treatment processes; Use of textiles; Environmental protection; Effect on textiles of natural exposure; Thermal exposure; Chemical and microbiological attack; Protection of, or by, textiles from environmental damage.


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.

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