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Throughout the supply chain, there is interest in conserving resources and reducing the textile industry’s environmental footprint. Every stage of a textile product’s life cycle has environmental impacts —from fiber production through manufacturing and retailing to laundering and disposal by consumers. Of particular concern is the use of water, energy, and chemicals (WEC) in textile processing — an area where technological advances offer significant savings in resources and environmental benefits. In cotton textile processing, dyeing and finishing have the largest WEC requirements and therefore offer the greatest scope for reductions.

Distribution of water, energy & chemical use in textile processing (% of total use)
85 80 65 Yarn spinning Fabric production Dyeing & finishing Garment manufacture 22 10 2 Water 2 Energy 8 8 12 5 Chemicals 1

Despite limits on consumer awareness and motivation, it is in the textile industry’s interest to adopt practices to reduce the use of water, energy, and chemicals, especially in dyeing and finishing. Cotton Incorporated recently surveyed representatives of global mills, brands, and retailers about their motivations for adopting sustainable cotton technologies and practices. About two-thirds of these companies are currently implementing sustainable practices or technologies (61%) and/or working with supply chain partners that are implementing them (66%). When asked to identify the main reason for their interest in sustainability, the most common response was concern for the environment — 42% said that it was better for the environment. Another 14% cited supply chain customer demand, and 11% said it would provide a competitive advantage; 16% said they were still exploring the potential benefits. During the winter of 2008–09, Cotton Incorporated conducted in-depth interviews with more than 40 global cotton textile processing companies that account for over 75% of global textile processing. These companies manufacture a wide range of woven, knit, denim, and yarn products and have implemented changes in their processes, dyes and chemicals, equipment, and control systems that significantly reduce requirements for water, energy, and chemicals. In this issue, we highlight two proven commercial technologies that survey respondents identified as having a potentially high impact on WEC reduction: (1) high-fixation reactive dyeing with reduced salt and (2) low-liquor-ratio jet dyeing machines.

Winchester & Associates, 2008

Research by Cotton Incorporated indicates that while consumers have become more environmentally aware, their understanding of textile manufacturing and its effects on the environment is limited, as is their willingness to pay more for environmentally friendly textile products. According to Cotton Incorporated’s 2010 Environment Survey, only 36% of consumers said they would be willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly clothing.

Reactive dyes contain a reactive group that forms a chemical bond with cotton fiber under alkaline conditions. Reactive dyes give bright, fast colors, and account for over 70% of the dyes used for cotton. However, large quantities of salt are needed to cause the dye to move from the dye bath to the fiber, and the exhaustion and fixation rates for reactive dyes (the percentage of the dye that moves from the dye bath onto the fiber and the percentage that bonds permanently to the fiber) are relatively low. For conventional reactive dyes, the fixation rate is often less than 80%, resulting in waste of dye, and removing the unfixed dye requires extensive rinsing and washing with heated water.

© 2010 Cotton Incorporated. INFO: Global Product Supply Chain 919.678.2262


Low-liquor-ratio jet dyeing machines Applicability Potential WEC Reduction Knits & wovens Water: high Energy: high Chemicals: moderate $200 K – $500 K. these higher-value dyes often are more expensive than conventional dyes. 2 to 5 years Investment & Payback Investment & Payback LOW-LIQUOR-RATIO JET DYEING MACHINES High-fixation reactive dyes most often are used with conventional equipment. LLR machines usually enable reduced cycle times and increased productivity. TOWARD A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE Advances in making dyeing technology more environmentally friendly have not been limited to improvements in dyestuffs and equipment. These high-fixation dyes usually incorporate two different reactive groups within the molecular structure of the dye. Compared with conventional machines. Much progress has been made in commercializing higher-fixation reactive dyes for dyeing yarns.cottoninc. visit “Cotton Today” at Cotton Incorporated’s Web site: http://cottontoday. However. and treatment and recycling of wastewater. knits & wovens Water: high Energy: moderate Chemicals: high < $200 K. < 2 years These machines usually use low-friction Teflon internal coatings and advanced spray systems to speed rinsing. and machines of newer designs operate at a liLow-liquor-ratio jet dyeing machine quor ratio of less than 8:1. Cooperation throughout the supply chain from fiber to finished product is critical to encouraging and supporting these efforts. depending on fabric weight. knits. while requiring less than half as much © 2010 Cotton Incorporated. They are designed to operate efficiently and at high quality with a very low ratio of water to material. Plants using machines with the newest airflow technology report processing with liquor ratios of less than 4:1. technological advances have reduced water requirements. and fixation rates of over 90% have been reported. and supply-chain requirements. because these dyes have higher affinity for fiber than do conventional dyes. as well as some wovens. however. Some plants achieve four batches in 24 hours (depending on depth of shade) and average water consumption of less than 50 liters per kilogram of knit fabric. but their benefits in WEC reduction are magnified when they are used in low-liquorratio (LLR) jet dyeing machines. Jet dyeing machines have been used commercially for 40 years. environmental regulations.SUPPLY CHAIN INSIGHTS SUSTAINABLE DYEING SOLUTIONS Dye suppliers are now offering improved dyes that enable much higher exhaustion and fixation rates while requiring less than half the salt needed with standard reactive dyes. Also. wovens. “Ultra low liquor ratio” jet dyeing machines operate at a liquor ratio of less than 6:1 and almost always depend on forced airflow to convey the fabric through the machine. High-fixation reactive dyeing with reduced salt Applicability Potential WEC Reduction Yarn. process control. and more water may be required for removal of unfixed dye. the plants that are the most advanced in reducing WEC pursue a combination of options including high-efficiency management practices.678. To view or download a PDF copy of A World of Ideas. they can be more difficult to apply uniformly. As mills gain experience with these new dyes and develop confidence that they deliver savings in WEC reduction and mill cost. www. Each plant adopts options compatible with its particular product offerings. economic circumstances. In addition. and garments. which favors use at new facilities rather than as replacements for older INFO: Global Product Supply Chain 919. LLR jet dyeing is widely used in high volume for piecedyed knits. Achieving these WEC reductions has required plants to learn and adapt to new processes and practices and to implement creative means for ensuring acceptable economic returns. Jet dyeing machines are based on the principle of accelerating water through a nozzle to transport fabrics through the machine. their use should increase significantly. special processes.cottoninc. Some mills have been able to boost their average fixation rates from below 70% to over 85%. One factor limiting implementation is the high cost of the new machines.2262 COTTON INCORPORATED . The cotton textile industry can reduce its WEC environmental footprint at least 50% by employing technologies currently used in modern plants (as described in Cotton Incorporated’s recent publication A World of Ideas: Technologies for Sustainable Cotton Textile Manufacturing).