The Ethical Impact of Chemical Dyes

Clothing and textile manufacturing's environmental impact and how to shop more ethicallyWe’ve talked about the environmental impact of chemical dyeing, but these processes have other risks as well. Chemical dyeing also takes a major toll on the health of textile workers and people living downstream from textile factories, elevating their risk of cancer. In regions where farmers live downstream from textile factories, they may also wind up unknowingly using toxic water to irrigate nearby fields and spread the health impacts of the textile dyeing process to the entire region.1

The problem is compounded by the fact that textile factories in foreign countries often have few if any workplace safety regulations, so many workers do not wear protective gloves or even shoes in high chemical areas, and some even eat lunch in the middle of polluted factories.2 Since most textile demand is in Western countries and most dye factories are in poorer parts of China, Bangladesh and India, our desire for fast fashion is literally poisoning the already impoverished. That doesn’t mean, however, that textile workers in the U.S. don’t face risks too. Even in nations with stricter safety regulations, workers who deal with chemical dyeing face an elevated risk of cancer.3

At Sustain, we want no part in this cycle of destruction. Our dyes are 100% natural, non-toxic, and made from plants and insects. After all, it’s much easier to provide safe conditions from workers when they are dyeing with plants like marigold as opposed to compounds we can’t pronounce the names of. Additionally, dyeing with natural ingredients protects our water – our "waste" water is “polluted” with residual plant nutrients and vitamins, so it’s actually beneficial for plants or irrigation downstream. That’s much better than toxic sludge, wouldn’t you say?


1 “Toxic Sludge Irrigating Fields for 20 Years,” The Tribune (April 7, 2009).

2 “River Blue,” documentary film, (2016).

3 "Occupational bladder cancer in textile dyeing and printing workers: six cases and their significance for screening programs,"  J. Occup Med., Vol. 32(9), pgs. 887-90 (Sept. 1990).

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