For our health and the health of the planet.
Textile Manufacturing Pollution
Cotton fiber is typically a soft white color. In order to get an industry "white" or colored fabric, the cotton fibers need to be processed through numerous dying and finishing techniques. Clothing that is wrinkle-free, polyester or has other “special features” undergoes even more processing.
Many components of the fabric dyes and finishes are known to be toxic, carcinogenic and active hormone disruptors, even in small quantities. These compounds include heavy metals, formaldehyde, chlorinated phenols, azo dyes, ammonia and many more.
Manufacturers are not required to label the chemical ingredients used on fabrics.
Health & The Environment
The chemical residues left over from dying and processing remain on clothing after they leave the factory. As soon as we wear an article of conventional clothing, the chemicals are transferred onto our skin. Most infamously, formaldehyde has been cited as causing health problems in children and adults. Some chemicals, dyes and finishes do not completely wash out of our clothing. Large amounts of these chemicals do leach out after a few washes, only to end up in our drinking water. Some chemicals actually become more toxic when treated at drinking water treatment facilities, such as toxic nonylphenol (NP). Even though many chemicals like nonylphenol ethoxylates are banned in the EU and regulated in the USA, we still find large quantities in our water supply due to leaching from washing our clothes.
Most fabrics are processed in China, India and Southeast Asia, where there is lax environmental and labor law enforcement. Rivers, ground water, soils and the air are all heavily polluted due to the textile industry. People working in textile processing facilities have enormous exposure to these toxins. This is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue.
- Our skin is the largest organ of the human body and we readily absorb chemicals directly through the skin.
- About 72 toxic chemicals used to dye and finish textiles are already in our water supply, even though some are banned in the USA and EU
- After agriculture, the textile industry is the 2nd largest polluter of water in the world
- It can take 200 tons of water to dye and finish 1 ton of fabric
The Sustainable Solution
We can support clothing makers that do not use toxic dyes or finishes on their fabrics. Knit and woven fabrics can be finished and dyed naturally and without toxic chemicals. Clothing companies need to disclose and label all the dyes and finishes used on their clothes. However, it can be difficult to find transparent clothing companies that will disclose the chemical ingredients in their dyes and finishes (companies hide behind patents and "trade secrets"). As we saw with the food movement, the same behavior was used by chemical companies and junk food makers to hide the truth about their ingredients. The downstream implications for using toxic free fabric are enormous.