The next time you pull on your jeans, consider this: it has taken around 500 gallons of water to make them. The textiles industry is one of the most water-intensive businesses in the world consuming around 190m cubic metres of water annually – second only to the steel industry.
The Textile industry is dependent on water in virtually all steps of manufacturing. Dyes, speciality chemicals, and finishing chemicals used to produce clothing are all applied to fabrics in water baths. This means that huge amounts of water are used to dye, finish, and wash clothes. Then there’s the issue of disposing of the contaminated water which throws up a whole new set of environmental challenges.
Of course, the thirst for water starts much higher up the supply chain with the growers who need alarming amounts of water to produce the raw material that goes into making garments. A simple white T-shirt, for example, consumes 2,600 litres from the moment of cotton planting to the point of sale in a shop.
Water and waste water management is one of the main environmental issues of the industry with an estimated use of 350,000 m3 /day, which does not include poorly recorded groundwater use as its main water source.
The EU backed project Wasatex project has conducted a major experiment with Benneton to asses the impact of water technologies on the textile industry. The results showed a cost saving of 42% from a reduction in water consumption and a potential to recycle 90% of all water. The trial, which uses reverse osmosis and nanofiltration technologies, also showed a significant reduction in energy costs as recycled water is typical 15 degrees higher than fresh water this saving on boiler costs.
Kirton Water Treatment Services is helping customers in the textile industry leave a smaller water footprint and achieve higher margins through a range of water treatment systems designed to prepare water for use in the manufacturing process and to recycle waste water.
One customer found a solution by extracting water from a nearby canal.
Kirton installed a 25m3/hr canal water abstraction plant and a borewell pumping station to bring water directly from the canal to the factory. The process involved four stages:
Firstly, suspended solids are removed using media filtration techniques, secondly, the water is passed through activated granular carbon vessels to remove any organics, colour and smell. The water is then softened to assist with the dying processes and then it is finally chlorinated to prevent biological activity during storage.
The resulting savings from these water treatment measures on water bills provided the company with a strong financial cushion to continue operations in a tough environment and it is still trading today.
On a much larger scale, Levi Strauss has introduced a company-wide water saving programme which is achieving remarkable results. The firm estimates to have saved around one billion litres since 2015 through a range of new processes including recycling.
“It’s only a matter of time before business leaders in the textile industry release what environmentalists have known for years – that the industry’s water use is not sustainable, “said Kirton MD Jon West.