How Manufacturers are Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling
There is a new wave of consciousness coming and many believe this is the start of new beginnings. Now more than ever, it is important for everyone to commit to responsible production and consumption, as we have been given this opportune pause to shift our old ways of thinking.
There is a new wave of consciousness coming and many believe this is the start of new beginnings. Now more than ever, it is important for everyone to commit to responsible production and consumption, as we have been given this opportune pause to shift our old ways of thinking. However, over the past few years, the industry has been working tirelessly to come up with solutions to clean up the dirty side of our beloved denim world. Let’s take a look at the innovative technology that is helping us reduce, reuse, and recycle throughout the production process.
It is very clear that we need to figure out how to do more with less, and in turn, become more and more efficient at every step in the value chain. The first area we focussed on was reducing our water intake. The denim industry has been long criticized for the mass amounts of water involved in making jeans, but lasers and ozone gas became commonplace for denim finishing to combat this. However, fiber cultivation and consumer care are the largest areas of impact, and little has been done to address these. There are a few different programs available, such as the e3 cotton program, that works with farmers to implement and commit to growing cotton more efficiently and decrease the impact on the environment. Part of this means using just the right amount of water. However, we have started to see a movement towards ‘cotton-free’ products, reducing our reliance on this so-called “thirsty” crop. TENCEL™ is a crowd favorite, with REFRIBRA™ technology ramping up, as well. REFRIBRA™ is Lenzing’s circular economy solution that uses a combination of TENCEL’s closed-loop technology with recycled cotton scraps, reducing our reliance on virgin materials. A bonus to REFRIBRA™ technology is its traceability. Lastly, we have seen mills start to experiment with cottonized hemp, known for its ability to capture carbon from the air and decontaminate polluted soils. It also requires a significantly less amount of water to grow compared to cotton. But if 23% of the water used and 37% of the climate change impact comes from the consumer care stage, we need to think of how we can make a product that needs to be washed less. So what can we do about this? Last month at Kingpins24, antibacterial and antimicrobial concepts caught my attention. This is done so by using a combination of technologies (like micro-structure elements coated with metallic silver) that reduces the need for domestic washing while maintaining the original look, feel, and quality of denim. By washing less we are not only saving water and energy, but we are also extending the life of the jean. The indigo dyeing process is far from clean, but we have made some headway. Biotech firm Tinctorium has genetically engineered bacteria to mirror the way the Japanese indigo plant, Polygonum Tinctorium, makes and holds its color. Adriano Goldschmied is on the board of advisors and believes this could be a viable solution to synthetic indigo. Pili is another company that is working to replace harsh chemicals with biofabricated organisms. Pili says that its microbial fermentation process can save 100 tonnes of petroleum and 10 tonnes of toxic chemicals per tonne of product. Their process uses about 5x less water and 10x less energy because microbes work at room temperature! Who knew microbes could be so cool. Foam dyeing methods claim to use no water at all, 89% fewer chemicals, 65% reduced energy usage, and zero water discharge. Pretty revolutionary if you ask me. Fibre2Fashion explains that the foam is made from a watery solution, which includes a foaming agent and a carrier for the dyestuff. The indigo dye is then transferred to yarns in an oxygen-deprived environment sealed by a nitrogen hood. Can we see someone experiment with bioengineered indigo applied with foam, please?! These energy, water, and chemical saving technologies are vital tools in sustainable production and reducing our reliance on virgin materials - and when combined can create new systems of production. Calik has created a concept called D-Clear which offers savings in both the dyeing and finishing steps. The concept decreases water consumption from 10 liters to 6 liters/meter of fabric during the indigo dyeing process and also only uses 9 grams of chemicals per liter in the finishing process, compared to the usual 150 grams. Lastly, D-Clear reduces water consumption from 6.4 liters to 1.1 in the finishing stages. D-Clear is a great example of how we can do more with less, and that we should be continuously looking for and measuring new and efficient ways to use our finite resources. Water-saving technology in the dyeing and finishing stages have been of large focus, but there are still many holes in the overall manufacturing process that could be made more efficient. Calik’s newest development, Denethic, is a groundbreaking innovation that considers the whole supply chain of manufacturing a denim garment with sustainability in mind. Denethic concept is a technique that creates fabrics with washed effects through rinse, rinse + enzyme, and bleach wash effects. Denethic fabric saves 44% water with the rinse look, 15% with the rinse + enzyme look, and 32% in the bleach look compared to the raw fabric, on which conventional washing processes are applied during the manufacturing process. For a clean look, these articles can even be used in the cut and sew stage! If you are looking for the authentic/vintage denim look or heavy wash effects, you can also get these looks using Calik’s most efficient and responsible laundering technologies. Less water, fewer chemicals, less energy, less time. What a perfect way to wrap up ‘REDUCE.’
Reuse & Recycle.
Water used in the dyeing process can not only be reduced, but it can also be recycled by treating the wastewater through a reverse osmosis system and looped back into production for use. The concept of recycling and reusing water has now trickled upstream to a point where the technology exists to turn old clothes into new cellulosic fibers, and even dyes! The most common form is mechanical recycling, but this reduces the quality over time as fibers get shorter and weaker during this process and result in having to blend the recycled material with virgin fibers. Chemical recycling, on the other hand, breaks the fabric down into its chemical structure, which can then be extruded into new fibers to make a different material, or more of the same material, without compromising the quality of the new fiber. And don’t forget about the dyestuff. Recycrom by Officina39+ is a dyestuffs range, using recycled clothes, textile scraps, and fibrous material. Their unique technology takes the fibers, pulverizes them, and turns them into powder. Another great way to use waste as a resource. These are just some examples of the innovative technology out there to help move the denim world to a “greener blue,” but there are constant efforts being made to continue to find better solutions. It is my hope to see these concepts being used commonly at scale and who knows… Maybe after this global disruption, we will start to see a real commitment to researching what the best practices are and actually start implementing them. Enough talk people. We need action!
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