You Aren't Releasing Dyes into the Environment



Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images
In the image above, A man walks through colored rainwater past a dyeing factory in Shyampur in June 2018. Its waste is dumped into the Buriganga river in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 


"Textile dyeing is one of the most polluting aspects of the global fashion industry, devastating the environment and posing health hazards to humans." -CNN Style

We can’t have fashion without colour, but colour poses a huge environmental and health risk to the manufacturing countries around the world.

Fast fashion leads the clothing retail market trend. The use of environmentally harmful chemicals is part of the reason the fashion industry remains the second worst polluting industry worldwide. 

Historical records of the use of natural dyes extracted from vegetables, fruits, flowers, certain insects and fish dates back to 3500 BC. It wasn’t until 1856 that synthetic dyes were discovered.


What’s the problem with synthetic dyes?

It’s estimated that there are more than 3600 individual textile dyes in use by the  clothing industry. The fashion industry also uses more than 8000 chemicals in various processes of textile manufacture including dyeing and printing.


An average sized textile mill (8000kg daily output production) uses about 1.6 million liters of water per day. The amount of water used in dyeing fabric varies from 30-60 Liters per KG of cloth. The overall water consumption of yarn (cotton) dyeing is about 60 liters per kg of yarn.


The World Bank estimates that 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and finishing treatment given to fabric. Some 72 toxic chemicals have been identified in water solely from textile dyeing, 30 of which cannot be removed. This represents an appalling environmental problem for the clothing and textile manufacturers.


The waste water (effluent) that has been studied, contained the “presence of sulphur, naphthol, vat dyes, nitrates, acetic acid, soaps, chromium compounds and heavy metals like copper, arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, nickel, and cobalt.” Other harmful chemicals present in the water: formaldehyde based dye fixing agents, chlorinated stain removers, hydro carbon based softeners, non bio degradable dyeing chemicals. These organic materials react with many disinfectants especially chlorine and form by products (DBP’S) that are often carcinogenic and therefore undesirable.


Are natural Dyes better?

Natural dyes may not be chemically derived, but they aren’t necessarily better.  Mordants (substances such as chromium), have to be used with natural dyes to “fix” color into the fabric. These mordants are very toxic and leave the dying facilities in the waste water. Natural dyes require large quantities of water for the dyeing process, almost equal to or double that of the fiber’s own weight. About 80% of the dyes & mordants stay in the fabric, while the rest goes down the drain and into the water system.



Treating wastewater is not an economic option for the fast fashion industry. It’s another expense that drives up cost and lowers the industry’s profit margins. It’s not ethical. Polluting someone else’s backyard and not cleaning up your mess. But there’s no one to hold them accountable.

There are three possible treatment methods for the effluence, but even using all three methods does not remove all the chemicals present in the water. The three methods, physical, chemical and biological. Combination of various effluent treatment methods can remove more than 85% of unwanted matter. The textile industry continues to search for an economical solution to decolorize the nearly 200 billion liters of colored effluent produced annually. There’s no solution for our consumption problem.


A Solution to the Problem

Consume Less

Wear your clothing longer 

Research has shown that "extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5 to 10 percent reduction in each [item’s] carbon, water and waste footprints,” says Sonali Diddi, a design and textile researcher at Colorado State University.



The longer an item of clothing is worn, the less impact it has on the planet.

That’s a big deal! Especially for maternity clothing.

We don’t need our maternity wardrobe for long.

With each new bump a piece of clothing sees, the longer it is worn, and the better it is for the environment.

When you choose preloved, you’re not releasing new chemicals into the water. This reduces water pollution.

Get the brands you love and reduce the pollution created on the other side of the world. We are shifting our consumption from a linear economy to a circular economy.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published