The fashion industry has polluted the The fashion industry has polluted the Earth’s waterways unchecked for a disconcertingly long time, an issue that we at ÀLA.HAUSSE are passionate to address. Sadly, this problem is even more prevalent in countries where environmental and safety laws are less strict, and because of this, once beautiful and flowing exotic rivers have become polluted, stagnant, toxic, and oddly enough, black as ink.
Even the idea of a black-ink river makes us uneasy. For some residents in Bangladesh, black ink rivers are a part of their day-to-day lives.
Aside from China, Bangladesh is the largest garment manufacturer in the world, pumping out over $34 billion dollars worth of clothing materials in 2019. This demand for garments has had a devastating effect on the environment. Rivers polluted with wastewater from the dye industry can contain many carcinogenic chemicals, dyes, salts and heavy metals, and much of this black, ruined water reaches the homes of the unfortunate surrounding residents.
Black ink rivers, and other similarly eerie phenomena are the unfortunate end result; however, their dreadful appearance is hardly their worst quality. In an interview with CNN, an unnamed resident of Savar comments on the quality of the water he and his family have had to endure, saying that they had exhausted their options and would have to leave soon.
The resident of Savar also explained to CNN how the area had changed since he was younger. Garment factories were non-existent, the land was free of waste, and the rivers were clean and full of life. Now, it has become a toxic wasteland. His children will never experience the home that he cherished.
The World Bank specifically identified 72 toxic chemicals that are readily released into the waterways of Bangladesh on a daily basis. Even though many of the chemicals used are non-toxic, they still accumulate in the water. This accumulation can reach points where little sunlight reaches the plant life beneath, resulting in anoxic ‘death zones’ which leave the river eventually unsuitable for life.
Of course, the rivers aren’t the only issue. The factories themselves are poorly managed, and the safety standards are lackluster to say the least. Many of the factory workers are maskless, gloveless, and sockless, wearing sandals, shorts, and stuffed into congested areas with many dangerous chemicals. If you are exposed to these chemicals (and you eventually will be) you are almost guaranteed to develop open sores, rashes, and other skin irritations.
Thankfully, the Bangladesh government has been addressing the issue.
Minister Shahab Uddin, leader of the Ministry, stated in an email to CNN that a wide variety of measures were being taken to address the carbon footprint of the Bangladeshi garment industry. This includes updating conservation and environmental laws, monitoring water quality, imposing fines on polluters, setting up centralized treatment plants and collaborating with international development partners to optimize wastewater treatment.
Researchers in Dhaka, Bangladesh are also considering new methods of dye application to combat textile pollution. Normal textile industrial processes require access to freshwater sources. The method they’ve developed would only require a saltwater source. Killing two birds with one stone, the researchers also negated the need for salt, a main ingredient in the dyeing process, by using saltwater instead of freshwater.
You may think that such a process would inevitably provide a lower-quality product, but these researchers would disagree. After accomplishing an extensive amount of sample comparison (shade, color fastness, color strength, etc.) between seawater and freshwater, they came to the conclusion that the seawater process resulted in an end product that did appear lighter, but not to a degree that would be considered significant.
Though the dyeing industry will certainly take time to reach a level of balance that would be suitable for the environment, the fashion industry as a whole is in a constant state of innovation, and new advances are arriving every day. We at ÀLA.HAUSSE are excited and hopeful for the future of sustainability, however big the step, so long as it’s in the right direction.
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