Sustainable Approaches in the Dyeing and Textile Industry in India

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Recently we asked Dr. C.N. Sivaramakrishnan, a distinguished senior scientist from the Society of Dyes & Colorists in India to respond to some questions to give us a sense of the sustainability challenges and opportunities in the dyeing industry in India. Below is Part 1 of this special report. Part 2 will be published in February.

Q: How large is the textile and dyeing industry in India, and what percentage of the world industry does that represent? What percentage is for the domestic market vs. international market?

A: The Indian textile industry is the second most important economic activity in the country, in terms of employment generation (after agriculture). It is also one of the major sources of export earnings for the country. Abundant availability of raw materials such as cotton, wool, silk and jute, as well as a skilled workforce, have made the country a sourcing hub. It is the world's second largest producer of textiles and garments. The Indian textiles industry accounts for about 24 percent of the world's spindle capacity and eight percent of global rotor capacity. The sector contributes about 14 percent to industrial production, approximately, four percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), and 27 percent to the country's foreign exchange inflows. It provides direct employment to over 45 million people.

The Textiles Vision Document, formulated by the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC), has projected that textiles exports from India will touch $300 billion (U.S. dollars) by the year 2024-25. India’s textile exports to the United States and Europe have risen to 26 and 18 percent respectively. The potential size of the Indian textiles and apparel industry is expected to reach $223 billion by 2021. India has overtaken Italy, Germany and Bangladesh to emerge as the world's second largest textile exporter, as per recent data released by 'UN Comtrade.  India's share in Global Textiles increased by 17.5 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. The industry has made a major contribution to the national economy in terms of direct and indirect employment generation and net foreign exchange earnings. Thus, the growth and all round development of this industry has a direct bearing on the improvement of India's economy. Major business restructuring is taking place across the industry. The government is also considering measures to support the industry on which livelihood of millions of people is dependent. The Indian textiles industry is set for strong growth, buoyed by strong domestic consumption as well as export demand. Textile processing machinery production in India is not fully geared up with the latest technology; therefore dyeing houses still rely on imported machinery for their requirements.

India’s textile export share

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Size of the industry and global presence

The Indian textile industry today has approximately 1,200 medium to large scale textile mills. Twenty percent of these mills are located in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu). The domestic knitting industry is characterized by small scale units with facilities for dyeing, processing and finishing. The industry is concentrated in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, Ludhiana, Punjab, and Panipat, Haryana). Tirupur produces 60 percent of the country's total knitwear exports. Knitted garments account for almost 32 percent of all exported garments. Most of the international brands like Marks & Spencer, JC Penny, H&M and Gap have started procuring most of their processed fabrics from India. Wal-Mart, who had procured processed fabrics worth $200 million over the last few years, intends to procure $3 billion in the years to follow. Major retail brands like Wal-Mart, H&M, Marks & Spencer, C&A and Puma have set up offices in India reposing their faith in Indian textiles.


The textiles sector has witnessed a spurt in investment during the last five years. The industry (including dyed and printed) attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) worth US $ 1,495.07 million during April 2000 to September 2014.

Q: What are the main environmental concerns and any related statistics (water use, heavy metals, dyes in effluent, etc.)?

A: Chemicals and their legislations with focus on Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) are the subject matter of discussion in any forum. The textile processing industry is facing tremendous pressure from local pollution control boards and NGOs. The past 50 years of synthetic material development has brought significant performance improvements in fabric. These improvements, however, are now beginning to be haunted by growing concerns about the health and environmental impacts of those materials, and the finishes and treatments added to them. Only a small fraction of the over 80,000 chemicals registered for use globally have undergone even the most basic human health screening. Many of the petrochemical-based products currently in use today share a common legacy of emitting toxic chemicals.

Bird Sanctuary.png

Most of the information on textiles focus on the environmental impacts related to the production and processing of textiles and possible health impacts related to the use of the products themselves. In many cases, these two impact areas overlap as they derive from the use of certain chemicals and other substances which may have both environmental and health impacts. A great variety of material types are used in today’s textile processing, some naturally grown, and some synthetically produced.  Both the production/cultivation and then the processing of such materials are highly varied and consequently have a variety of different potential impacts.

Environmental issues during the operational phase of textile processing include the following:

  1. Emissions to air, water and soil
  2. Wastewater treatment
  3. Resource & energy efficiency – energy consumption
  4. Handling hazardous materials
  5. Solid and liquid waste management

  • The thrust is to use safe dyes, pigments and auxiliaries that are organic and easily biodegradable. Certain azo dyes have found to be carcinogenic and their use either restricted or banned in some cases.
  • For naturally grown fibers such as cotton, the use of pesticides and fertilizers (organic or non-organic production) is of particular importance from an environmental perspective.
  • Heavy metals are a subset of elements that exhibit metallic properties. They include transition metals, some metalloids, lanthanides & actinides. In general, any metallic chemical element that has a relatively high density (> 5g/cc) and is highly toxic or poisonous may cause health problems such as kidney failure, emphysema, allergies and even cancer. One of the most recent restrictions is the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act 2008 (CPSIA) from the US, where all children’s products, including textiles have been brought under a restriction in lead content.

Heavy metals of concern include Copper, Nickel, Cobalt, Chromium 6+, Chromium total, Mercury, Zinc, Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, Antimony, Barium, Selenium and Tin.

Bird Sanctuary2.png

Environmental issues associated with textile effluents include the following:

  1. Residual dyestuffs – toxicity, color, bio degradability
  2. Halogenated organic compounds (AOX)
  3. Heavy metals contamination (Cr, Cu, Zn)
  4. Surfactants and synergistic relationship with toxicants
  5. Salts in effluent which is to be re used for land application
  6. Auxiliary agents for dyeing – toxicity and biodegradability
  7. Finishes – toxicity and biodegradability
  8. Heavy levels of total oxidized sulphur (TOS)
  9. High Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) and Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)

Q: What solutions are being implemented? Are there any solutions that are looking not just at cleaning up waste streams and recycling water but at innovations in the processes to minimize water use or replace the need for problematic chemicals?

A: The buzz word in the textile processing industry is SUSTAINABILITY. The main environmental concern in textile processing is the amount of discharged water and the chemical load it carries. There is awareness amongst processing fraternity to go for Best Available Technologies (BAT). Introduction of BAT has led to following advantages:

  • Standard Operating Parameters fixed by assessing recipes to monitor quality and quantity of chemicals
  • Good quality water is used; Water is re used, recycled
  • Low-liquor dyeing machines and Right First Time (RFT) dyeing techniques
  • Strictly following non usage of chemicals from the restricted substances list (RSL) and substituting with eco-friendly and bodegradable products.

Most of these measures allow significant savings not only in water consumption, but also in energy savings because less energy is used to heat up the process baths. Other techniques are specifically focused on optimizing the use of energy, e.g. heat insulation of pipes, values, tanks, and machines; segregation of hot and cold waste water streams; and recovery of heat from the hot stream.

Q: How do REACH and other international regulations and supply chain pressures impact the industry in India? Is the pressure to become more sustainable coming more from the outside or from concerns internal to India such as the environmental impact on India’s waterways?

A: REACH, which stands for Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, places responsibility on all manufacturers and importers of chemicals to identify and manage the risks that those substances which they manufacture and market may pose to human health and to the environment. REACH requires the safe use of products over the entire life-cycle to be examined, which means that an intensive exchange of information with suppliers and customers is needed to meet these requirements.

The key part of REACH that affects the textile industry looks at substances in articles, whether those substances are intended to be released, whether they are substances of very high concern (SVHC), or whether they are restricted.

This will affect all industries with chemicals in its supply chain and will replace a lot of existing chemical regulations.

Chemical manufacturers have pre-registered all chemical substances with the ECHA or have ensured that their business partners have fulfilled their obligations. They only use raw materials in conformity with REACH (pre-registration by manufacturer/importer).

With the pre-registration activities, most of the reputed manufactures have made every effort to avoid unnecessary disruption in the supply and marketing of products.

With the entry into force of REACH the requirements concerning the structure of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) has changed. The MSDS of all new products, as well as updates of existing products, will reflect this change, however all MSDS for existing products reflecting current legislation, were still valid until the end of 2010. It is mandatory that suppliers of dyes, chemicals and auxiliaries fully comply with the REACH requirements.

Registration of substances will generally result in a revised MSDS of the derived downstream product. Only when the downstream user receives this new MSDS including the registration number, will the obligations associated with the exposure scenario come into force.

In the case that a certain use is not covered by the exposure scenarios, the downstream user has 12 months to make this use known to the supplier (or six months for writing their own Chemical Safety Report). During this time, it is legal to continue the use. Exposure scenarios need not be developed for products, which do not contain hazardous substances (ref. Annex I, 0.6) or for substances that are produced with less than 10 tons per year (ref. Art. 10.1). In these cases, use information is not required.

The REACH Regulation stipulates that after the end of the registration period downstream users may use substances subject to registration only if these substances are registered by the manufacturer/importer.

Moreover, substances must be "permitted" for specific uses of downstream users by mentioning these uses in the safety data sheet. For substances in volumes of 10 tons or more per year, the registrant previously needs to perform a chemical safety assessment. Pursuant to Article 37 of the REACH Regulation, downstream users have the right to make a use known to their supplier, DUCC Template is used (DUCC = Down­stream Users of Chemicals Coordination Group). This template lists descriptors as well as some major exposure-relevant parameters. The DUCC Format provides a first overview of relevant uses in industry. A subdivision was made between "standard uses" (21 in number) and so‑called "uses to be communicated separately". It is recommended to communicate the latter together with the respective products.

GOTS: Global Organic Textile Standards is a widely accepted certificate for Indian textiles to enter the European soil.

Q: How might India’s new CSR spending law (2% net profits) benefit the sustainable approaches in the industry (if at all)?

A: Contrary to popular belief, corporations and the society are interdependent. Social issues affect corporations and the corporations’ actions in turn affect the society. Corporations are addressing societal issues that would benefit both, the society as well as the corporation. Social Responsibility is well integrated with the corporation’s total functioning. Translating CSR into ‘corporate social integration’ resulting in corporations treating ‘CSR’ as an integral part of their strategy and stop treating it as an act of philanthropy. Textile mills are striving hard at all levels to conserve natural resources and energy. Indian textile companies have been recipients:

  • Of the Green Manufacturing Excellence
  • Processing facilities for energy and waste management, emission control and occupation safety
  • Awards from U.S. giant Wal-Mart and the World CSR Congres

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