Green Chemistry: Textile Industry Perspective and Future

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Part 4: Green Chemistry Applied to Textiles

By J. Michael Quante, AATCC Staff

As the textile industry moves forward in the 21st century, advancements in green chemistry Chemistry collagewill continue to impact and improve manufacturing practices. The final installment in this series covers a recent conversation with industry leaders on how and where this technology has and will find use.

Green chemistry innovations have already made an impact on the textile industry. John Frazier, senior technical director, Hohenstein Institute America, says that there has been a lot of interest in the industry over the years about the selection and use of safer chemistries. This process began with the creation and widespread use of Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs). These were pioneered by the American Apparel & Footwear Association in 2007. Industry needed to provide “data to prove that [RSL listed] chemicals were not there [in products], [and specifically] what kind of toxic endpoints [for RSL listed chemicals] were not wanted in products,” says Frazier.

Green chemistry principles then began to be included in the development and selection of formulations. Ben Mead, managing director, Hohenstein Institute America, describes the process, using the example of imparting water repellency based on RSL data, as providing manufacturers with chemical toxicological information and directing them to green chemistry principles to find the best option(s), while maintaining the desired product performance. Examples of these “greener” chemical finishes include the Chemours PFC-Free Durable Water Repellent Zelan R3 and also Covestro’s INSQIN waterborne (no solvents, i.e., dimethylformamide) polyurethane (PU) for synthetic leather.

Kanti Jasani, president of ‎Performance & Technical Textile Consulting, mentions the use of enzymes, CO2-dyeing of synthetics [as well as CO2 use in dry cleaning], non-POFA and nonfluorinated chemical treatments for water repellency, halogen substitutes in flame retardants, and the use of natural dyes as examples of green chemistry applications for textile manufacturing. Helping the manufacturer understand what level of protection is required by the specifier may result in using less of a more harmful chemical or substitution of a safer finishing agent. Education is the key, says Jasani.

Besides the green chemistry resources listed in my previous article, Frazier also mentions Yarn spoolsZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals)—“ a collection of companies in apparel and footwear committed to the goal of eliminating the discharge of hazardous chemicals [that] has a number of projects including those that incorporate green chemistry thinking.”

“Preferred chemistry lists, such as ECO PASSPORT by Oeko-Tex, incorporate green chemistry principles and then provide a trusted [independent] 3rd party review of chemical formulations. This allows brands to direct their supply chains, drives business to proactive (cleaner) chemical suppliers, and signals a better direction to chemical suppliers not engaged. Most important is that suppliers using chemicals can find better alternatives,” says Frazier.

Many challenges lie ahead in industry adoption of green chemistry principles. “The large volume of chemicals used, the sheer number of products using textiles annually, the decreasing level of chemical expertise in the industry, and the massive amount of water use/discharge during dyeing and finishing” are hurdles, says Frazier.

Mead points out the importance of knowing your supply chain. “Even with good intentions, if your brand doesn’t have good relationships going down the {supply] chain [things can go wrong]. [Also important is] knowing what industry needs are and what is the next thing people [consumers] want so research can be balanced. For brands, where do we want to start implementing solutions? For producers, how quickly do we need to [gear up for this]?”

Frazier summarizes: “A lot of visibility is needed, and a lot of brands don’t have it.” Public awareness of and education about chemical hazards is also critical. “[For example], if people had not recognized the dangers of PFOAs, we wouldn’t be talking about a hazardous chemical we use today in industry,” says Jasani.

Going forward, there is still some confusion over the terms “green chemistry” vs. “sustainability.” Are these separate concepts or interdependent? “I think the answer will Green Earthdepend on who you ask, but I definitely see the two as complimentary. Both are working to provide efficient use of chemicals to minimize waste, toxicity, and the impact to the environment,” says Frazier. He also emphasizes the importance of green chemistry’s 12 Principles. Jasani sees green chemistry as “the backbone of sustainability. Green chemistry takes sustainability to the next level. Sustainability [in turn] came from necessity, driven by awareness and promoted by regulation.” He also reminds us that chemistry’s contributions are as critical to the continuing success of the textile industry today as they were even before the Industrial Revolution. Continued applications of green chemistry in the textile industry, balanced by economic- and consumer-based realities, opens the door further to a world of safer and more environmentally-friendly products.

Opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily those of AATCC.