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Green Wardrobe for a sustainable future

Sivaram Pillai, Aug 15, 2016, 0:41 IST
Case studies have shown that organisations that have invested in Zero Liquid Discharge were the ones who have reaped significant benefits compared to those who did not do that
Tirupur is a small, dusty, hot town in the Kongu Nadu region of Tamil Nadu, yet can easily be called the fashion capital of the country, and perhaps the world. For decades now Tirupur has been spinning out haute couture for several high-end international brands like Gap and Tommy Hilfiger. It nets billions of dollars every year and is a classic example of globalisation. Tirupur provides employment for about half-a-million people and exports clothes worldwide.

The story of Tiurpur is an example which has motivated the government of India, to recently announce a Rs 6,000 crore package for the textile industry, which includes more flexible labour laws and many financial incentives. The government recognises the tremendous opportunity for employment generation in the industry and obviously wants to make use of this potential to achieve some its stated goals in employment generation.
However, there are also many challenges facing the textile sector and one of the main issues is the pollution caused by the industry. The lush green rice paddies and coconut palms that once defined Tirupur city are now replaced with scrub forests and dry lands. The famous Noyyal River, upon whose banks the city was built, has lost all its glory and is polluted with effluents discharged by textile plants in this region.

The textile industry, on an average, consumes 100 MT of water for processing one MT of stock. As several chemicals, including dyes and auxiliaries as well as significant quantities of salt are used in the different stages of textile processing, the wastewater released is very polluted and strict norms for achieving Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) are being put in by the regulatory authorities. With the current practices of using traditional chemical auxiliaries it is not possible to achieve ZLD in a cost effective manner. The functioning (or rather non-functioning) of the many common effluent treatment plants are a testimony to the reality of this situation. This is where non-chemical options can help in a big way.

The need of the hour is the use of organic chemicals that are non-toxic and completely bio-degradable. Natural products have the upper hand of being eco-friendly as well as pocket friendly. While enzymes as an alternative have been in the market for very long, they have not made mark due to the inherent challenges of narrow pH and temperature required for their optimal performance. The textile chemical market in India is beginning to embrace the idea of alternative methods such as bio-degradable biochemical alternatives that are less hazardous to the environment.

Using such organic chemicals also reduces the cost of processing in the textile industry as textile auxiliaries are not cheap and make up 3-4% of the total manufacturing cost. Dyes are expensive and the cost of dyeing a fabric with vat dyes is more than reactive dyes. Indian manufacturers are choosing green solutions and investing in R&D units to produce non-toxic textile chemicals. Textile Chemical producers have also realised the importance of biodegradable alternatives and have begun to invest in the development of bio-auxiliaries and use of probiotics to produce alternative materials.

Probiotics, which hitherto has been linked only to human and animal health applications, is also now recognised as a path breaking technology for the production safe, non-toxic and bio-degradable formulations for multiple industrial applications including textile processing. While the current global market potential for probiotics is estimated to be around $55 billion, this refers to only the traditional applications in human and animal health. As the awareness for preventive health care increases across the globe, this market is also expected to post a healthy growth rate!

Probiotics Technology for industrial application, referred in this article, utilises naturally occurring, beneficial microbes to manufacture non-toxic and bio-degradable formulations which replace chemical surfactants as well as sequestering agents. This is similar to the category often referred to as fermentation chemicals. A report published in 2014 says that the industrial application of biotechnology, such as fermentation chemicals, will not only broaden the range of raw materials used as the principal input for chemical production but also generate products and materials with new properties and applications. This report also clearly demonstrates that the ecological footprint of such chemicals is lower than that of fossil fuel based alternatives which are predominantly in use now.

Many textile processors have begun to use and benefit from probiotic technology based products. Products available in the market now, exhibit features such as full bio-degradability, ability to perform under wide pH and temperature conditions and relatively long shelf life compared to enzymes. They deliver results as good as, or in many situations, better than the chemical auxiliaries currently being used by the textile processing industry. Apart from the fact that these products show measurable reduction in the pollution parameters in the effluent stream, they are also resulting in less water consumption, lesser process time and hence reduced energy consumption.

Cleaner production is a smart and viable method to combat the environmental complications related to industrial production and bad material productivity. Green technology implementation in textile sector has proved effective, there has been remarkable cost saving and innovation of alternative interventions. Many case studies show that the organisations that invested in Zero Liquid Discharge before it was made mandatory were the ones who have reaped significant benefits compared to those who did not do that. Do we need more evidence that cleaner production practices result in improvement of the quality of products and reduction in the cost of production? Sustainable business practices are not only good for the world at large, but it also makes sound business sense.

Additionally, cleaner production also helps in improving the industry’s public image by underlining the measures it has taken to safeguard the environment. Is it possible that the Noyyal River will regain its glory and usefulness to the farmers in the region in the next decade or so?

(The author is CEO of Proklean Technologies)

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