Within Europe, textile consumption ranks fifth in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and raw material usage. However, a more concerning observation is that the industry generates at least 20% of the contamination of clean water through dyeing and toxic chemicals while more than 14 million tones of microplastics are released after washing in the oceans.
Shifting towards a greener textile
Efforts are now intensifying, as researchers and industry leaders focus towards discovering or developing bio-based materials sourced from nature. These include natural fibres like silk, cotton, jute, hemp, flax, ramie fibre, and wool. In addition, man-made bio-based fibres like viscose, modal, and lyocell play a pivotal role in transforming the industry’s landscape. This shift marks an important step in reshaping our mindset and reducing the negative environmental impact. Yet, although as critical as this change is, this alone cannot ensure a fully sustainable and circular textile industry and economy. A broader perspective becomes essential, that not only embraces the change in materials but also ensures the safeguarding and preservation of precious natural resources such as soil, water, and land, along with the protection of biodiversity.
Monitoring the environmental footprint
In the onset of a new more organic textile industry, the monitoring of environmental impact emerges as a critical aspect. Evaluating factors like fossil fuel use during production, land utilization, and potential water contamination is critical in securing the sustainability of bio-based textiles. This approach will ensure that the shift towards eco-friendly materials ensures a substantial reduction in the overall environmental footprint, as we work towards constructing a circular and sustainable economy.
Embracing Certifications for Change
The use of certifications and eco-labels that demonstrate our commitment to sustainability can make a real difference. These certifications act as a clear guide, helping us steer the textile industry toward practices that are greener and more sustainable. To truly transform the industry, textile certifications must incorporate some key aspects. These may include:
- Product design for longevity, reusability, and recyclability
- Freedom from harmful toxins
- Adherence to circular practices
- Reduction of microplastics
- Utilization of sustainable raw materials
- Commitment to ethical labor conditions
- Transparent product traceability.
- Valentina Rognoli, Bruna Petreca, Barbara Pollini & Carmem Saito (2022) Materials biography as a tool for designers’ exploration of bio-based and bio-fabricated materials for the sustainable fashion industry, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 18:1, 749-772, DOI: 10.1080/15487733.2022.2124740
- The role of bio-based textile fibres in a circular and sustainable textiles system https://www.eionet.europa.eu/etcs/etc-ce/products/etc-ce-report-2023-5-the-role-of-bio-based-textile-fibres-in-a-circular-and-sustainable-textiles-system
- European Environment Agency (2023) https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93327/the-impact-of-textile-production-and-waste-on-the-environment-infographics#:~:text=The%20fashion%20industry%20is%20estimated,of%20CO2%20emissions%20per%20person.