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The Sustainability of Waterless Dyeing

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Jilid:
16
Bahasa:
english
Majalah:
AATCC Review
DOI:
10.14504/ar.16.1.1
Date:
January, 2016
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Feature

The Sustainability
of Waterless Dyeing
By Nicola Davies

I

n January 2015, the World Economic Forum
announced that the water crisis is the number
one global risk, according to its impact to society.1
It is said that future wars will be fought over this
precious and diminishing resource. Accordingly,
any effort to conserve water or to prevent its
contamination should be considered valuable. It
follows that the textile industry should embrace
new methods of fabric dyeing that use minimal or
no water at all. This is particularly true given that
the textile industry is currently the world’s second
largest polluter of clean drinking water.2

36 | AATCC Review

Vol. 16, No. 1

January/February 2016

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Feature

January/February 2016

Vol. 16, No. 1

Delivered by Ingenta to: Georgia Institute of Technology
IP: 5.101.218.45 On: Thu, 16 Jun 2016 11:15:16

AATCC Review | 37

Feature

Using Radically Less Water
Traditional dyeing is a multi-step process that uses
chemicals and aid agents, consequently producing
large quantities of waste water that cannot be reused.
Statistics reveal that close to 30 billion kilograms of
textiles are dyed each year to meet market demands,
and that dyeing only one kilogram of fabric consumes
about 150 liters of water.
Waterless dyeing processes vary: some use no water
at all while others reduce water usage by about 95%.
Three companies have been pioneering these ecofriendly techniques for several years now; they are
DyeCoo, ColorZen and AirDye. Each uses different
methods, but all use minimal or no water.

The DyeCoo and AirDye processes can only dye synthetic fabrics. “Currently, our method is suitable for
almost all synthetic fibers,” shares Wijnands. “Polyester and CO2 have a great natural affinity with each
other, making it very easy to dye. Since the largest
percentage of the market consists of synthetic fibers
[over 60%] and is also the fastest growing, synthetic
fiber; s now have our focus.”
The company also continues to work on finding dyes
that would allow their machines to dye natural fibers.
Wijnands says, “We are convinced we will be able to
dye natural fibers as well in the future. We also believe
that CO2 technology can further help in the textile
industry with cleaning and applying finishes.”
ColorZen, on the other hand, concentrates its dyeing
efforts on cotton. President and co-founder Michael
Harari explains that the company’s process reduces
water usage by up to 90% and uses far less energy
and fewer chemicals, therefore being much more

PHOTOS COURTESY DYECOO

The DyeCoo process involves infusing the powdered
dye into fabric under pressure using CO2. As Melanie
Wijnands, marketing and communications manager
for DyeCoo, explains, “We use low amounts of energy,
generate no waste, use half the dyes compared to most
conventional methods, do not use any processing chemicals, and recycle 95% of all the CO2 used after every
batch.” Since no water is used, no waste water treatment
is necessary. Furthermore, energy use is reduced as
the cycle is shorter than with traditional dyeing; there
is also no heating of water and no drying of the textile
required. The method produces a dye uptake of 98%.

The AirDye process uses a very small amount of water
(up to a 95% saving) and significantly less energy
than traditional water-based dyeing. The procedure
involves transferring dye from paper to fabric by
means of a printing machine. The company claims
that the paper can be recycled and that the dyes are
inert and can thus be reused.

DyeCoo machinery in a Thailand dye house.

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Vol. 16, No. 1

The DyeCoo process. Fabric on a beam is placed
in the vessel where the waterless and chemical free
process takes place.

January/February 2016

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Delivered by Ingenta to: Georgia Institute of Technology
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environmentally friendly. Their technology involves
pre-treating cotton before dyeing, which results in the
dye being taken up three times faster.

Why Not Go Waterless?
Andrew Filarowski, technical director of the Society
of Dyers and Colourists (SDC), believes the Achilles heel of waterless dyeing is the capital expense. He
adds, “Many dyehouses could use better machinery
that requires less water if they made smaller capital
expenditure than would be required for supercritical
carbon dioxide dyeing.”
Currently, there are options in the market that would
reduce water use (rather than being waterless). Such
options can include new dyes and chemicals that use less
water and dye machinery that conserves water. However,
many dye houses are reluctant even to spend money on
these relatively inexpensive water-saving options. Consequently, they are unlikely to spend extra money on more
expensive equipment for waterless dyeing.
Harari says, “There are various technologies out there
for textile dyeing that positively affect water consumption during dyeing, but not all of them require new
machinery.” However, he concurs that cost is a barrier
to completely waterless dyeing because of the additional
investment required. When talking to dye houses, he
has found that “While the operating costs of dyeing may be lower, the investment and retrofit to the
dye house required to adopt this technology is quite
significant, creating a high barrier to entry for that
respective technology.”

More (Economically) Sustainable
It seems that a process of education, combined with
public pressure and government regulations, is needed
for waterless dyeing to become more widespread.
Harari explains that any fundamental change in a
manufacturing procedure is scary for operating mills:
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Vol. 16, No. 1

“There is a perceived risk in any new process and
potential disruption to an already functioning operation.” He adds, “What would make waterless dyeing
technology more economically sustainable is reducing its disruption of the existing dyeing process and
dye house operation, while at the same time properly
educating the dye houses on the flaws of the current
method and the benefits of the new one.”
Wijnands agrees that education is an important criterion. “The biggest challenge we have now is to convince
more textile producers to change their behavior,” she
says. “This is a challenge because the textile industry is
conservative and very driven by low production costs.”
She understands that the DyeCoo process involves
significant investment in new machinery, but is adamant that, “In the long run our technology is more
sustainable, looking at the ecological footprint, as
well as being more economical.” She explains that the
reduction in costs for dyes and chemicals using their
process is significant, and that the expected substantial
increase in the charges for water and energy also need
to be considered. She concludes, “A waterless alternative ensures a competitive edge in the long run.”
Supply chain control might be another way of increasing the uptake of waterless dyeing technology, and
certain companies like Nike and Adidas have been
leaders in this regard. Filarowski applauds “those companies that have been forward thinking … and also
those companies in the retail/brand sector who have
invested and work with these companies.” However,
he adds, “These textiles only make up a very small
percentage of the polyester being dyed worldwide.”
Harari points out that, “Supply chain management
is very challenging, even for the most sophisticated
brands and retailers. This is because their supply
chains are often very fragmented, with many
components and steps in manufacturing their
product, often involving multiple geographies.”

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Despite the difficulties in monitoring the industry, it
seems that government legislation would go a long
way towards curbing current polluting practices.
Many NGOs are putting pressure on governments
and retailers to act more responsibly in order to
protect the environment. As Wijnands explains,
“Governments, public opinion, and brands are and
should be the driving force for the change. If they
demand and ask for a better way—producers are
more inclined or forced to change their production.”

Pressure to Act
There is no doubt that the low uptake of waterless
dyeing is based on the price the public expects to
pay for their products, a circumstance which causes
the textile industry to make concerted efforts to
keep costs as low as possible. At the same time,
given the increasing value of water as a precious
commodity, it is clear that dye houses’ negative
impact on clean drinking water must be curtailed.
Ironically, many of the world’s dye houses are situated in areas where there is profound water scarcity
but, as Filarski points out, “This is due to the cost
base that exists in these countries.” Thus, many
rivers in China and India are filled with effluent,
unabsorbed dyes, and chemicals.
As we move more deeply into a water crisis, it
becomes increasingly necessary for all role-players to
act: governments will need to introduce legislation
reducing the environmental impact of fabric dyeing,
supply chains will need to act responsibly as to the
source of their textiles, consumers can put pressure
on brands to produce more sustainable products,
and dye houses will need to be educated and assisted
to make the transition to less damaging methods.
DOI: 10.14504/ar.16.1.1

The waterless dyeing technology available today vastly
decreases pollution and, fortunately, there is already
much interest in moving towards newer, better ways
to dye textiles. These new methods will continue to
improve, which should result in more widespread
waterless dyeing, particularly if the cost of machinery decreases. For many dye houses who are juggling
their balance sheets, the threat to their traditional
dyeing methods has become an emotional issue, but
it remains inevitable that increasing pressure towards
eco-friendly processes will be exerted in the future.
References

1.
2.

https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/01/why-world-water-crisesare-a-top-global-risk
www.sustainablecommunication.org/eco360/what-is-eco360scauses/water-pollution

Author
Nicola Davies is a psychologist and writer with an
interest in textiles. Twitter (@healthpsychuk); website,
https://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com

PHOTOS COURTESY COLORZEN

He believes that while progress towards less toxic
production is ongoing and there are many chemical
management policies in place, enforcement requires
large compliance teams.

Beakers showing wastewater from traditional cotton
dyeing versus the ColorZen process

January/February 2016

Vol. 16, No. 1

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AATCC Review | 41