We know how much energy it takes to produce the various fibers in the textile industry. But, there is no dramatic difference in the amount of energy needed to weave fibers into fabric depending on fiber type. The processing is generally the same whether the fiber is nylon, cotton, hemp, wool or polyester:
• Thermal energy required per meter of cloth is 4,500-5,500 kcal
• Electrical energy required per meter of cloth is 0.45-0.55 kWh
This translates into huge quantities of fossil fuels – both to create energy directly needed to power the mills in textile industry and air conditioners, produce heat and steam, as well as indirectly to create the many chemicals used in production. In addition, the textile industry has one of the lowest efficiencies in energy utilization because it is largely antiquated.
In addition to the energy requirements for textile production, there is an additional dimension to consider during processing – environmental pollution. Conventional textile processing is highly polluting.
Up to 2,000 chemicals are used in textile processing, many of them known to be harmful to humans (and animal) health. Some of these chemicals evaporate, some are dissolved in treatment water which is discharged to our environment, and some are residual in the fabric, to be brought into our homes (where, with use, tiny bits abrade and you ingest or otherwise breathe them in). A whole list of the most commonly used chemicals in fabric production are linked to human health problems that vary from annoying to profound. And new research is linking many diseases and disorders due to exposure to chemicals. Through the new science of environmental health science, we are learning that exposure to toxic chemicals (at levels once thought to have been safe) is increasing the chronic disease burden for millions of us.
So, it’s time to rethink our approach to energy consumption in the textile industry and look for alternatives that have proven results in this respect.