Development and environment are closely connected; injustice to nature in the name of development is bound to become a relic of past. The global community is getting serious about environment conservation. Today, the idea of development is that it should neither impair the environment nor restrain productivity in the long run. Even the consumers are increasingly becoming aware about organic products and the perks of buying these, compared to the chemically treated ones.
Textile sector, which is among the most lucrative sectors, globally, is gradually adapting to the changing needs. The need to eliminate use of toxic chemicals in textile industry is on the rise. Nevertheless, many countries continue to manage textile sector in ways that breach international standards set for environment conservation. Chemicals are still an integral part of the textile industry. According to Transparency Market Research's report on textile chemicals market, the value of global textile chemical market was estimated to be around US $ 19.66 billion in 2013.
The market is further anticipated to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.7 per cent between 2014 and 2020 and reach US $ 25.42 billion by 2020. The textile sector is vast and the use of chemicals is not limited to the fashion industry only. With considerable expansion of the global textile industry, home furnishing has become the largest application segment of the global textile chemicals market. The Asia Pacific region accounts for 50 per cent of the total textile chemical market and will continue to dominate the chemical segment for the next five years. The textile industry of China and India is mainly responsible for driving the chemical market in Asia Pacific.
The strict stance of developed countries is now leading developing nations to pay more attention to scale down the application of chemicals in textiles. While, absolute exclusion of chemicals is difficult to attain, many countries of the European Union have declared a complete ban on the use of azo chemicals. Regrettably, rules pertaining to textile chemicals, like Formaldehyde, vary in several regions. Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling, flammable chemical, used in producing many household products, like permanent-press fabrics.
China, which has lenient textile laws in comparison to France, has stricter provisions for application of Formaldehyde. In China, the limit to use Formaldehyde in textiles that come in direct contact has been set at 75 ppm, while France allows 100 ppm application in the same category.
In order to reduce the use of chemicals in textiles, developed countries will have to devise strict rules, which can deter developing countries from using textile chemicals on the fear of losing textile export and outsourcing contracts from the First World countries. One of the major decisions taken by brands, including Adidas, Inditex, VF, Gap, Nike, H&M, M&S, C&A and Primark, is to eliminate toxic charges from their entire supply chain. This decision has put pressure on the developing nations, such as India, to pay serious attention to application of textile chemicals. China, another major market, has already announced to tighten its grip on textile plants contributing to pollution. China is expected to ban 50 to 60 chemicals in the process.
The commitment of high-end brands is expected to play a crucial role in controlling the use of toxic textile chemicals. One of the luxury brands of Britain- Burberry has committed to eliminate per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals from its supply chain by July 2016. This initiative would raise standards for other luxury brands, experts estimate. Such decisions could lead to toxic-free fashion in the foreseeable future.
More than 550 types of dyes, which are part of the broader nine groups of dyes, as well as over 3,000 chemicals from 11 groups of auxiliaries applied in textiles, have been banned by professional institutes around the world as well as legislations of various countries. The trouble in absolute detachment of textile and chemicals arises when these banned and hazardous chemicals continue to rule the textile world in certain developing nations. In spite of warnings from environmentalists, the global textile industry is hesitant in giving absolute commitment to make textile world free from toxics.
Moreover, clothing designed for kids are not free of toxic chemicals. A new Greenpeace study reveals that several top fashion brands continue using hazardous chemicals in the production of kids' wear. Another Greenpeace research found that some of the chemicals widely used in the textile industry interfere with the hormone system. The hazardous chemicals are expected to impact children more than adults, as kids are known for higher susceptibility to such elements. Report from the UNEP and WHO also confirms that impacts caused by hormone disruptors can be dangerous, particularly for growing children.
In countries like India that have huge domestic market, survival is easier for textile mills that contribute to pollution with toxic chemicals. These mills continue to take advantage of loose import restrictions in Russia, Egypt and other parts of the world. Toxic chemicals can be eliminated from textile mills of developing countries only when the polluting mills are banned under the internal legislature.
Worldwide regulations are being implemented to make the textile industry toxin-free. Introduction of more stringent regulation will ensure that brands will eventually have to adopt safer alternatives. Nevertheless, the economic issues surrounding toxic-free textile discourage manufacturers from choosing safer option. The concerns of the textile sector about economic feasibility of toxin-free clothing are understandable. Replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives is not always a cost friendly option. Organic clothing that claim to be entirely free of chemicals are costlier for the manufacturers as well as for consumers. But, controlling the use of toxic chemicals in textiles is essential if companies desire to keep business sustainable in a cleaner environment.