Taking Water Conservation to the Next Level in Textiles
For the last ten years textile mills have been focusing on conserving water during the production of textiles. Much of this concern has been promulgated by apparel retailers and apparel brands requesting that the mills produce their goods in a more sustainable manner. The International Antimicrobial Council applauds the work that has been done in this area and the leadership shown by the entire textile industry. As important as it is to save water during the production of textiles, the majority of water used for textiles is in the maintenance of textiles by consumers, or laundering.
According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency the average American family washes almost 400 loads of laundry each year. A family of four using a standard clothes washer will consume over 12,000 gallons ( 45.4 m3) of water annually. A family that wears antimicrobial treated apparel will be able to wear the apparel as much as three times as long before laundering. Considering that 60% of an American family’s laundry is apparel, this will save each household 5400 gallons (20,400L) of water a year. If their home products are also treated it will save each family 9,000 gallons (34,000L) of water. (Also can figure the water use per good based on weight of the good in relationship to the total weight of a load of laundry.).
If we are really going to get serious about conserving water we really need to begin reducing the need for such frequent laundering
According to some estimates, 60 million metric tons of textiles are dyed each year at the rate of 100 liters of water per kilogram of material, which translates to some 6 trillion liters of water — equivalent to approximately 2.36 million Olympic-sized swimming poolfuls, or, put another way, equivalent to 219 days' supply of drinking water for the entire world population. In China alone, it is estimated that traditional textile dyeing generates 2.27 trillion liters of untreated wastewater each year.
Polyester materials comprise more than half of all textiles dyed, with 39 million metric tons projected to be dyed annually by 2015. Cotton textiles make up a large majority of the rest.
Dyeing and finishing machinery manufacturers have developed technologies to reduce the amount of water needed to process fabrics, yarns and apparel. And textile dye/chemical manufacturers have developed technologies that considerably reduce the amount of salt and other chemicals needed in the dyeing process and offer improved dye uptake rates in the fibers, thus reducing the amount of chemicals discharged in wastewater as well as the amount of water needed for dyeing/finishing operations. Other new technologies aim to reduce still further or even eliminate altogether the amount of water needed for these processes and the impact of dyes and chemicals on effluent water quality.
(Textile World Nov/Dec 2012)
About 1 billion people lack access to potable water, and about 5 million people die each year from poor drinking water, or poor sanitation often resulting from water shortage – that’s 10 times the number of people killed in wars around the globe. (Ecotextiles, Feb 24, 2010)
the Indian textile industry uses 425,000,000 gallons of water every day  to process the fabrics it produces. Put another way, it takes about 20 gallons of water to produce one yard of upholstery weight fabric. If we assume one sofa uses about 25 yards of fabric, then the water necessary to produce the fabric to cover that one sofa is 500 gallons. Those figures vary widely, however, and often the water footprint is deemed higher. The graphic here is from the Wall Street Journal, which assigns 505 gallons to one pair of Levi’s 501 jeans. (CSE study on pollution of Bandi river by textile industries in Pali town, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, May 2006 and “Socio-Economic, Environmental and Clean Technology Aspects of Textile Industries in Tiruppur, South India”, Prakash Nelliyat, Madras School of Economics)
By 2015, the global apparel industry is expected to produce more than 400 billion square meters of fabric per year, representing nearly enough material to cover the state of California annually. These fabrics will be produced from nearly 100 million tonnes of fiber and filament yarns, about 40% of which are agriculturally derived (i.e., cotton, wool, …) and 60% synthetic (i.e., polyester, nylon, …). (Gugnami and Mishra 2012)
One key resource utilized by the textiles industry is water. In 2009, the New York Times (reporting on a California study) revealed that several dozen gallons (or more than 400 pounds) of water were required to process one pound of textiles. (Peters 2009) Mapping this consumption rate onto the countries where production is concentrated shows that the industry’s use and discharge rates constitute a significant fraction of available water resources. As an example, in 2009, textile production ranked third among major industries in China in terms of total wastewater discharge, emitting over 2.5 billion tons primarily from the dyeing and finishing steps of manufacture. (IPE 2012).