The fashion industry, a world known for its glamour, is actually one of the Earth's largest pollutants . Fashion consumer culture is set on the foundation of buying and discarding at a rate faster than ever seen before, and textile producers must keep up with the growing rate. What often goes masked to the public is the amount of dye and water used to produce each garment, and the ways in which it infiltrates the Earth's natural water sources. If not dealt with properly, pollution caused by the growing fashion industry could rapidly affect the majority of Earth's population, industries, and quality of life.
The process of dyeing fabrics, yarns, and fibers is a series of steps starting with desizing, mercerization, and neutralization, which all help to prep the fabric and allow for maximum dye absorption before the actual dying process begins. The dye is then steamed on to the fabric, and between the pretreatments, dyeing, and finishing the average textile mill will use 8000 kg of fabric per day (roughly a volume of 1.6 million liters) . Once the dye process is complete, there will be a bath of by-product that was not absorbed by the fabric. To prevent a high concentration of dye polluting natural water, textile workers would perform an effluent treatment method (chemical, physical, or biological) to separate the dye from the water . However, since these processes are often far too expensive and time consuming, this rarely happens. The left-over dye that is drained into natural water sources is an issue because many of the dyes are synthetic, making them toxic and carcinogenic due to compounds such as benzidine and naphthalene . Additionally, since the dyes are synthetic, they have compounds that will stay in the water without breaking down for long periods of time. High concentrations of dye resting at the water’s surface prevents sunlight from coming through and ultimately slow the process of photosynthesis for algae and other plants, disrupting the entire underwater ecosystem . These dyes will affect the amount of dissolved oxygen available to underwater plants, and can significantly decrease fish population. This is evident for members surrounding the Kabul River in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who relied on fishing as a main source of income. Since the rise of fast fashion in the 90s, 85% of fisherman on the Kabul River have had to search for income elsewhere. 
Although, the repercussions of dye pollution does not stop at water bodies, humans are highly susceptible to the effects of the dye process as well. Synthetic dyes have chemicals that can pose a serious health risk as they can be cancerous, cause skin issues, irritation, allergies, and changes in tissue . The inhalation or absorption of various dyes can be toxic on a varying scale of severity, even posing the chance of, “formation of hemoglobin adducts and disturbance of blood formation.”  None is more evident than its effect on Nigeria, whose textile industry is one of their largest markets. Since the area is centralized around a series of rivers, the dye effluents dumped in the water have the capacity to spread throughout a vast area. Wastewater also contains components like chromium, lead, zinc and copper, which then flows through natural resources and sinks into the rivers soil. In the summer, the heat will evaporate much of the river water, causing the dye’s to become airborne - many of which are cancerous. 
However, these issues are slowly being brought to the surface, and some companies have been innovative in their approach towards a more sustainable future. A possible solution, trademarked by Cargill, is to use a plant based polymer called Inego. This is essentially a corn by-product that’s been made into polylactide. As an alternative that consists of natural fibers, the leftover product can be composted . The use of Inego tackles the issue of waste generated by the fashion industry, yet, also contributes to cleaning up the textile industry, as the product is natural as opposed to synthetic (getting rid of cancerous dyes). Perhaps a more innovative solution is the method of waterless dyeing. Brought to the surface in 2010, this is a fabric dyeing machine that functions entirely on CO2, using absolutely no water. The system is faster than the normal dye process, and doesn’t use chemicals. The fabric is loaded into a stainless steel tube, heated to a temperature of 3100K, and CO2 is compressed and spun inside. For about a 60-minute dying period the pressure is maintained at 74 bar. After this process the CO2 and left over dyes are properly separated and recycled . This method of dyeing is a much more environmentally friendly, efficient process that could benefit all involved. However, the process is expensive and requires trained professionals to operate machineries, hence the reason it isn’t being utilized as a mainstream textile dyeing technique. Most companies don’t have the resources to perform this method at its current cost, although now that this technology has been introduced there could be a possibility of discovering a more cost-effective method of dry dyeing in the future.
The textile industry has been leaving an ecological footprint on Earth’s natural water sources, causing sickness and a shift in the ecosystem of water bodies. The rise of fast fashion, and the pressure for textile mills to compete with lower prices, is polluting the environment at a rapid pace. Some innovations have pushed the industry towards sustainability, however a more cost effective method is still missing before fashion can consider itself truly sustainable.
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