OEM: Stuck in the Middle
By Hu Kehua 17 September, 2014
CNTAC's Hu on challenges ahead for textile OEMs in meeting new standards & brands' product needs, CNTAC's Hu on challenges ahead for textile OEMs in meeting new standards & brands' product needs
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About China National Textile & Apparel Council (CNTAC): CNTAC serves as the leading organization of China’s textile industries. As a platform, CNTAC achieved a transition from a management agency to a comprehensive industry service body. It facilitates industry development, policy research, standard application and information communication.
China Water Risk (CWR): The MEP singled out textile as one of 16 most polluting industries. We know that the textile industry involves many different sub-industries and production procedures. Which are the most water intensive and polluting ones in China?
Hu Kehua (HKH): Generally speaking, there are six sub-industries: manufacturing of fibers, spinning, weaving, dyeing, finishing and garment manufacturing. Manufacturing of fibers and dyeing are the two most water intensive processes whilst dyeing & finishing are the most polluting.
“Manufacturing of fibers and dyeing are the two most water intensive processes whilst dyeing & finishing are the most polluting.”
Manufacturing of chemical fibres
The manufacturing of chemical fibres requires huge amounts of water for cooling and also lots of chemicals. As a result, it discharges large quantities of wastewater containing chemical pollutants. The oil agents used also result in a high content of COD in the discharge.
Weaving and dyeing
The dyeing process is both water intensive and polluting. However, the reason is actually because of the weaving process. The weaving of yarn into fabric uses textile sizing agents to improve the strength of yarn and decrease its hairiness. The type of sizing agent used will be subject to the requirement of fabric and is basic necessity.
“Wastewater from the traditional sizing process accounts for about 40% of total textile wastewater.”
After weaving, the sizing agent on the fabric will be washed off during the bleaching process before dyeing. This so-called “desizing” process will results in lots of wastewater. Wastewater from the traditional sizing process accounts for about 40% of total textile wastewater.
Unfortunately, weaving and dyeing are mostly performed by separate factories.
CWR: So what you are saying is that weaving and dyeing factories should work together to solve the wastewater problem. Is that correct?
HKH: Yes. The dyeing wastewater is actually a result of how factories upstream and downstream interact in the supply chain. The upstream fabric manufacturers will only consider how to control their production cost and not much about the difficulty of removing sizing agent for dyeing factories. When it comes to pollution control, we should look beyond the dyeing process and take into account upstream production processes as well.
CWR: How can the weaving & dyeing factories reduce the generation of wastewater?
HKH: Alternative sizing techniques are available, such as bio-enzyme treatment or using biological sizing agent. However, these alternative techniques may still lead to instable sizing and affect the quality of the fabric.
“Alternative sizing techniques are available, such as bio-enzyme treatment or using biological sizing agent….New technologies now allow adding color directly to the fibre”
In reality, the difficulty is that manufacturers or dyeing factories buy woven fabric from the market and they cannot be100% sure if the type of sizing agents used and sizing techniques. This adds to the complexity and difficulty of desizing wastewater treatment.
There is also a trend to replace natural fibres with chemical ones. New technologies now allow adding color directly to the fibre during the chemical fibres manufacturing process. This could avoid the dyeing process and hence reduce wastewater discharge. The current weaving technology could also make fabric made from chemical fibres have the texture like natural cotton.
CWR: So it seems that OEMs are actually not the fundamental cause of textile pollution. Maybe we should take a step back and rethink the impact on water at the design stage.
“While business will always try to fulfill consumers’ needs, consumers often don’t realize the impact of such needs on the environment.”
HKH: Yes. In fact, since humans started to wear clothes, the fundamental production processes did not change much over the past thousands of years, except for improvements of techniques and materials such as dyes.
The ultimate purpose of textile manufacturing is to fulfill consumers’ needs. For instance, to achieve special functions like waterproof for outdoor clothes, factories will need to add particular chemical layers on the fabric. While business will always try to fulfill consumers’ needs, consumers often don’t realize the impact of such needs on the environment.
CWR: A few international and Chinese NGOs have released reports on textile brands’ environmental performance. As an industry association, how do you think about these reports? Will such NGO campaigns help to move the fashion industry towards s ‘greener’ supply chains?
HKH: I agree that those NGO reports spot the pollution issues in the textile industry, but that’s all they see. Portraying textile industry as “demons” will only harm the whole economy of China.
“Portraying textile industry as “demons” will only harm the whole economy of China”
The industrial output of the whole textile industry is similar to size of Indonesia’s economy
The industrial output of textile industry accounts for about 12% of China’s GDP. If you consider the whole textile industry as a country, it would be ranked No.17 in the world during 2012-2013, similar to the size of Indonesia’s economy. It also creates many jobs and employs millions of people.
Moreover, the competitiveness of China’s textile industry lies in complete and optimized industrial chains in one region. If the dyeing factories in one region are closed down, the other related businesses will also be affected.
Of course, the textile industry will need to change and solve these issues. But the NGO reports not only caused public panic, and also didn’t give brands confidence to make the change.
CWR: The pressure is not only from the NGOs, but also from the government. The new wastewater discharge standard for dyeing & finishing has been in force for about one year and a half. It sets much stricter limits for wastewater pollutant discharge. Since the government declared war on water pollution, we have seen more stringent policies and larger penalties being put in place. How do you see the performance of textile factories over the last year?
HKH: We were involved in the making of this new standard. Its enforcement has brought big impact to the industry: for example, in Xiaoshan of Zhejiang Province, 12 out of about 40 dyeing factories were shut down due to pressure to comply the news wastewater discharge limits.
But is it necessary to apply the new standards to all cases? In some regions, the local governments have established industrial parks and established centralized treatment facilities for all factories within the park. Technically there is actually no need for such factories to install additional equipment. Textile wastewater with high COD could also be used to neutralize the municipal wastewater in the centralized treatment plant.
“Centralized treatment would be much more efficient, effective and economical for monitoring and pollution control.”
However, now the factories need to install individual treatment facilities to meet the new requirement, which usually costs millions of yuan – a big burden for an average dyeing factory.
I think centralized treatment would be much more efficient, effective and economical for monitoring and pollution control. Without strong monitoring and punishment, the new standard might “force” some small factories to illegally discharge their wastewater.
CWR: In the end of last year, the State Council issued “Circular Economy Development Strategies and Action Plan” to promote circular economy in nine industries and industrial parks including textile. Do you think that a circular economy could help the textile industry change and move forward?
HKH: The future of textile industry definitely lies in innovation, cleaner production and better management.
As we said earlier, the dyeing & finishing are the most polluting processes in the textile industry. 12FYP wants to reduce COD emissions from dyeing from 299,000 tons in 2010 to 269,000 tons by 2015.
“The future of textile industry definitely lies in innovation, cleaner production and better management….it needs joint efforts from all related parties along the supply chain.”
New pollution control technologies are emerging, such as membrane separation, advanced oxidation and resin adsorption. Take the dope dyeing technology as an example: it reduces 70% to 82% of energy and water consumption and 5% to 19% of the cost of the dyeing process. Meanwhile, the color is less likely to fade compared to traditional technologies.
In addition, it is important to upgrade equipment and adopt water saving measures like water recycling. Currently the water recycling rate varies along the production line: 89.5% for fiber, but only 26.9% for spinning, weaving, dyeing & finishing, and 26.9% for garment manufacturing. A lot of room to improve.
To change the whole textile industry, it needs joint efforts from all related parties along the supply chain. We are encouraging open and transparent public participation and helping the public to have a better understanding of the industry. This is one of the key tasks of our CSR office.
Textile Water Pollution & Efficiency:
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- Industrial Water: Meeting New Standards – Dr. Anthony Ma from Hong Kong Productivity Council introduces HSBC’s new programme to help industries meet water standards and calls for government support to the factories to install pollution control and efficiency improvement facilities that cost millions of RMB.
- Brand Rankings Through A Chinese Lens – See how global and local brands rank across 8 sectors in terms of their supply chain’s environmental impact in this review of the new Corporate Information Transparency Index (CITI) report by IPE & NRDC
- Fashion Update! Brand Winners & Sinners – With the new Phase III Textiles Investigative Report released by 7 China NGOs, we look at who has managed to stay on top since April 2012
- Leather: Time for Business Unusual Leather is amongst the top ten most polluting industries globally. Are ‘eco-leather’ efforts ‘green’ enough given renewed attention by the Chinese government? Or is it time to go business unusual … we take a closer look at hides & tanning
- Sustainable Leather: More Steps to go…. China exports over half the worlds leather shoes, this export industry has grown to more than USD 56 billion but during this process 249 million m3 of water is wasted. The question is raised to whether the leather industry is sustainable
- Water & Leather Find out how much water is used in producing leather with Sarah Swenson of PrimeAsia Leather as she walks us through the company’s water footprint and efforts in reducing their water usage within and beyond their own operations
- The Power of Pipe Management: Mark Nicol from Echologics tells us on how acoustic technologies can non-evasively detect underground leaks as well as save water. Globally, 35% of water supplied is lost through leaking pipes; managing this is is key given rising urbanisation
- China’s Membrane Rush: Foreign vs. Local – Tom Freyberg, Chief Editor at Water & Wastewater International, reviews the opportunities for Chinese & Foreign companies in China’s membrane technology market
- 5 Takeaways from Aquatech China 2014: How real is China’s war on pollution? Will it translate into a growing domestic water market? See what local & foreign industrial leaders have to say in Shanghai and check out our 5 key takeaways from Aquatech China 2014
- Textiles: Enzymes to the Rescue: Dupont’s Scott Brix on how enzymes can help reduce water & chemicals in textile manufacturing, offering the industry a way forward in water efficiency and pollution
- Bridging Gaps to Water Innovation Water scarcity and pollution will drive innovation in partnerships and technology. But for water tech, the potential for commercialisation remains the biggest challenge to innovators. Here, Will Sarni discusses the barriers and opportunities associated with innovation in the water sector
Sustainability & Corporate Water Strategy:
- Materials Sustainability in the Higg Index – Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Sousa & Young on how Nike’s Materials Sustainability Index can help brands & suppliers make the right water-friendly choices in raw material selection
- One Year On: H&M & Water Stewardship – H&M’s Sustainability Relations Responsible, Julia Bakutis updates us on their Water Stewardship programme one year on. Find out what they have done & what challenges lie ahead for H&M as a water steward
- Water Stewardship: A Stake in the Ground – There is no universally agreed definition of water stewardship, leaving companies unsure of what it is and what to do. Stuart Orr walks us through WWF’s latest report, A Stake in the Ground, an introductory guide for companies on managing multi-faceted water risks