The Impact of Chemical Dyes on Our Waterways

Did you know that an estimated 17-20% of industrial water pollution is from chemical textile dyeing?1 That’s a lot, though it’s no surprise when you know that up to 72 toxic chemicals can be released into the water during the chemical dyeing process, including heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic and toxins like formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid. What’s worse is that at least 30 of these chemicals can’t even be removed once they’ve been mixed into runoff.2 That’s bad for waterways and aquatic life, not to mention the textile workers handling the chemicals.3

That all sounds bad, but the chemical dye industry is one of many industries that pollute water. Why is the percentage of water pollution being caused by it so high? It’s partly because the process is so toxic, but it’s also because chemical dyeing requires a lot of water. Like, A LOT. The average dye factory uses about 1.7 million liters of water a day, and the textile industry overall wastes about 200 billion liters of water a year. In fact, it takes about 500 gallons of water just to make enough fabric for one sofa. Now think about how much upholstered furniture, drapery, and clothing you have in your home.4 Scary, right?

At Sustain, we care greatly about the earth and our water, so we strive to make sure that our dyes don’t pollute. How do we do that? Well every dye we use is 100% natural, most derived from plant leaves, flowers, and roots. We also use dyes derived from insects, but either way, the resulting runoff water is safe to use for irrigation. (It’s essentially tea!) In fact, in our Ayurvedic collection, our partners in India do just that and use their wastewater to irrigate their dye plants and crops. Plus, even though our dyes are safe, we try to limit our water use as much as possible. So even locally, a large percentage of the water used to dye our small-batch apparel is reused.



1,3 "Dye Manufacturing," Pollution Prevent and Abatement Handbook, World Bank Group (1998).

2,4 "Textile dyeing industry an environmental hazard," Natural Science, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2012), Article ID:17027 (citing Hazardous Substance Research Centers/South and Southwest Outreach Program (2005) Environmental hazards of the textile industry. Environmental Update #24, Business Week).

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