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Sustainability and recycling are overarching themes for the future of business, as is evident from the amount of attention paid to them in the news cycles as well as global governments.
The industry segment is expected to see a contraction at least until 2024. India’s $200 billion textile and apparel industry is facing a crisis as consumers in Europe, U.S and other big markets for Indian manufacturers have cut spending on clothing, as inflation is on rise and effects of the Ukraine war cause more hardships. COVID restrictions in China have also been among contributing factors. Returning to normalcy will take some time, likely by 2025.
The textile business, like the rest of the world, is adjusting to new demands by implementing new methods of production. The demand for natural fibers like cotton, silk and linen has increased exponentially. Most of this comes from a new generation of customers who are willing to pay more for sustainability. This is a good thing, as it is the demand that will drive organisations to become more sustainable, apart from regulation. According to a report by the UN, “Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.”
Issues like responsible manufacturing, recycled thread clothing, lower usage of electricity, sustainable and eco-friendly clothing lines, lower water usage, and zero-discharge manufacturing are some of the issues that concern the industry. The Government of India is pushing textile manufacturers to have zero-discharge plants so that less pollutants are let out into freshwater bodies. This will bear fruit, but over time as organisations adapt to the mandates. The timeframe for this has been fixed for 2030.
Another key issue that the industry is grappling with is the usage of coal for boilers. A reduction in carbon footprint requires the phasing out of coal energy, but cleaner alternatives are expensive. Textile players have asked for alternate sources and technology like gas to be provided at subsided rates, else the added costs will have to be passed on to consumers.
A step in the right direction to minimize pollution and advance sustainability is traceability — the ability to track and trace the entire life-cycle of the product from raw material and final good to consumption, disposal and recycling. If major players adopt such practices, the industry’s efficiency could improve, ensuring constant supply of quality material and better risk management.
Circularity is another critical issue from a sustainability perspective. Recycling a garment helps in reducing GHG emissions, saves resources and helps maximize economic, social and environmental benefits.
Countries like China and those in Europe have a policy to recycle textile waste. India does not have such a policy yet, and a suitable policy where the Indian textile industry can contribute in advancing energy transition commitments and recycle textiles is need of the hour.
It is expected that by 2030-2035, most of the organised sector textile manufacturers will be employing a sustainable model of doing business. Tamil Nadu could become a model state for this industry – most of the manufacturers in the state use 100 per cent green energy, and have implemented zero liquid-discharge in processing. They also have PET recycling plants, use waste from spinning processes to make yarn and fabric, produce 100 per cent PET-recycled textile products for apparel, use garment cutting waste recycling to make new clothes, house their plants in green-certified buildings, and so on.
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