When every drop counts

When every drop counts

As the emphasis on sustainability grows, textile manufacturers are implementing measures to reduce, reuse, and recycle wastewater. Nonetheless, there are a few challenges that need to be addressed, emphasises Divya Shetty.

The integration of new technology has brought about a complete revolution in the textile manufacturing process. However, the swift pace of industrialisation has led to a notable surge in wastewater generation. The textile manufacturing requires a large amount of water that often impacts freshwater supplies resulting in water crisis in many cities in India. Textile manufacturing units generate a large amount of wastewater, which is hardest to treat because it contains fibres and pigments that are also harmful for the environment.

These effluents must be treated and reused to reduce stress on freshwater reserves and help protect the ecosystem from pollution. 

“In terms of raw water, around 61–646L kg of cloth are used in Indian mills. 58-81 per cent of wastewater is discharged from the entire amount of water consumed (Senthil, 2019),” informs Dr Reena Mehta, Professor, General Management, K J Somaiya Institute of Management and Dr Vandana Tripathi, Assistant Professor – General Management, K J Somaiya Institute of Management. 

The production process entails various chemical and physical processes, encompassing sizing, de-sizing, scouring, bleaching, mercerizing, dyeing, finishing, and printing. The wastewater discharged from the textile industry contains detrimental pollutants such as dyes, chromium, NaOH, starch, acid, among others. 

The preservation of the ecosystem and sustainable water use are dependent upon the comprehensive wastewater management effort. Also, it is important to note that the choice of method of wastewater treatment is to be done carefully considering its impact on the environment, economic, production, and process (ease of use). 

Rapid deployment of ETPs and ZLDs 

In response to the growing enthusiasm for environmental conservation and increased attention paid by brands to eco-friendly manufacturing techniques, various companies are integrating Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) in their production process.

“In India, companies like Arvind, Welspun India, Raymond, Vardhman Textiles, and Siyaram Mills have embraced advanced wastewater treatment technologies. Arvind, for instance, has invested in Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) and Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems, while Welspun India has implemented state-of-the-art treatment facilities. Raymond prioritises sustainability with eco-friendly processes and wastewater treatment investments. Vardhman Textiles and Siyaram Silk Mills have also integrated wastewater treatment plants into their operations, emphasising water conservation and pollution control,” shares Ayush Patodia – Associate Vice President, Avalon Consulting.

Globally, companies such as Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co., H&M Group, Gap Inc., and Nike showcase comprehensive approaches to wastewater management. These firms have implemented technologies for water reuse, invested in wastewater treatment infrastructure, and collaborated with suppliers to promote sustainable practices. For example, Levi’s WaterLess technology reduces water usage, while H&M Group works with partners to improve water management practices. Nike supports community-based water projects and implements water-saving technologies across its supply chain.

“RSWM treats all post-process water in its effluent treatment plant and purifies it before returning it to the environment in a cleaner state. This helps company save 1350 kilolitres of water daily,” says Balkrishna Sharma, Business Head and Chief Executive of Yarn Business, RSWM.

Even Narendra Dalmia, Director, Strata Geosystems (India), comments, “We have consistently embraced sustainable solutions in manufacturing. For instance, five years back, we opted and shifted to a cumbersome water-based coating technology, deviating from the industry’s standard practice of using easier solvent-based coating option. The water waste generated is completely recycled and reused.”

“We operate as a melange yarn manufacturing facility specializing in spinning and supplying melange yarns. To support this, we have our own fiber dyeing facility. Notably, our fiber dyeing facility adheres to a zero-discharge policy for hazardous chemicals, meaning no liquid discharges are permitted into groundwater. Instead, all water undergoes thorough recycling and reuse in the processing cycle. This fundamental practice helps prevent waste products from entering the soil and causing pollution,”shares D Rajarathinavelu, Sales Manager, Amarjothi Spinning Mills.

“We can utilise treated wastewater for various purposes such as processing, daily sanitation, and more. Given the limited water source, water preservation is imperative. Our printing system has been designed to conserve both water and energy. Unlike traditional reactive dyeing methods that consume substantial resources, our technique allows for a 75% reduction in water usage. Additionally, Epricon enables the elimination of 3-4 printing processes, saving valuable time,” adds Nilesh Yadav, Regional Sales Manager, Zydex.

According to the World Bank, the wastewater created by the dyeing and finishing department accounts for around 17–20 per cent of total industrial effluent. About 300,000 tonne of synthetic dyes are reportedly discharged annually into treatment facilities worldwide. Hence, dyeing and finishing industries are also rapidly integrating the ZLD practices and ETPs in their manufacturing units. 

Observing the significant volume of effluent being produced, dyeing and finishing industries are also rapidly incorporating Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) practices and Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) into their manufacturing facilities.  “We have the largest pigment ZLD plant in Maharashtra where we recycle and reuse 98 per cent of water. Whatever we are doing, it’s completely sustainable. We are operating at zero liquid discharge in most of our manufacturing,” states Mihir Shah, Executive Director at Vipul Organics.

“Many stakeholders are increasingly investing in ZLD systems to enable the reuse of approximately 90-95 per cent of the recovered water in their processes. This trend is exemplified by the textile industry in Tirupur, where a significant portion of the sector has adopted ZLD practices. The momentum is spreading to other regions, reflecting a growing recognition of the need for water self-reliance,” opines Umasankar Mahapatra, Managing Director of Pulcra Chemicals.

Tirupur leads the way in adopting Zero Liquid Discharge Technology

Situated in the state of Tamil Nadu, Tirupur holds the distinction of being India’s primary hub for the production of cotton knitwear. According to the Tirupur Exporters’ Association (TEA), the garment exports from Tirupur reached Rs 33,525 crore in the fiscal year 2021-2022, constituting 1.07 per cent of India’s overall merchandise exports during the same period. Remarkably, Tirupur holds an important position in India’s export of knitwear-based apparel products, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the total share. The textile industry in Tirupur heavily relies on water, historically resorting to extensive use of groundwater and tankers to address the city’s inadequate water supply.

Owing to the excessive water consumption, the Dyeing and Processing units in Tirupur encountered severe issues, leading to the closure of numerous units due to environmental hazards, as stated by the Tamil Nadu High Court.

Hence, the city recognised the gravity of the situation and took a significant measure. In 2012, Dr A Sakthivel, Former Chairman of Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) announced that Tirupur has become the first textiles cluster in India to arrive at the Zero Liquid Discharge Technology. At present all Dyeing & Processing units are using 100 per cent Zero Discharge technology.

Now both Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) and Individual units are following this ZLD technology and are successfully meeting the requirements of the trade and servicing the requirements.

As far as water is concerned, Tirupur is not facing any problem since it is re-using the water up to 90 per cent. Moreover, due to this ZLD technology, some marginal percentage was being used after colour processing – in the form of salt water as concentrated salt solution – called BRINE Solution re-use.

The industry both in India and globally showered accolades upon this innovation. Since then, the city has maintained an unwavering commitment to technological advancements, consistently updating its systems. In December 2023, a collaborative pilot initiative with German involvement aimed at treating textile effluents was launched at the Kunnankalpalayam Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) in Tirupur. The three-year project, funded by the Indo German Science and Technology Centre, falls under the Indo German collaboration. Following laboratory assessments, a pilot-scale electrochemical ozone oxidation process (ECOOP) reactor and CDI have been installed at Kunnankalpalayam CETP, capable of treating 350 litres of effluent per hour. This technology, spearheaded by one of the principal investigators, Indumathi M Nambi of IIT Madras, eliminates colour and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), avoids sludge production, circumvents two conventional effluent treatment processes, and results in cost, manpower, and space savings.

The project, initiated in 2020, will undergo field-level trials for approximately six months. According to a press release, the technology has the potential to diminish land requirements, aeration needs, and the skill and time demands associated with biological wastewater treatment. Partners in this venture include IIT Madras, RWTH Aachen University, Goeth Universitat, Tamil Nadu Water Investment Company, Ibacon, and Eurofins. The pilot plant inauguration was carried out by T Christuraj, the District Collector of Tirupur.

 “With a vertical setup, encompassing recycled products and garment manufacturing. With a focus on water conservation, our dyeing and printing processes are conducted ethically, ensuring treated water is responsibly managed without any discharge. This commitment to sustainability spans over two decades, contributing positively to farmers as well,” opines A Narayanaswamy, Vice President, Armstrong Spinning Mills.

Vaishali Kashiwala, New Product Development Division, Ianboocel, COMMENTS, “As pioneers in introducing bamboo fibre to the Indian market, our sustainable and eco-friendly products emphasize the importance of Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) plants for environmental preservation. Our company is actively committed to adhering to the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) guidelines and has obtained certification, assuring industries that our products align with these standards, fostering confidence in their usage.”

Challenges to overcome

While the industry is quickly embracing practices for conserving wastewater, there is an apparent lack of adequate knowledge on utilising such systems. Alternatively, some businesses hesitate to adopt them due to concerns about economic expenditure.  BluWin is a Sustainable Textile Solutions (STS) which provides a wide range of services from assessments, verifications and consultancy to help Brands and Retailers identify potential risks in their supply chain.Sambhaji Chopdekar, Senior Consultant, BluWin, mentions, “While carrying out audits of the textile and leather mills, we realised that large quantities of water are used, considerable amounts of which turn into wastewater. On one hand, those mills strive to treat the wastewater and convert it into a high-grade one, on the other hand, by observing them, we find out that they lack expertise and knowledge. Investments might prove to be a limitation for some companies, while others may be lacking in awareness of the technologies necessary for efficient wastewater treatment.”

For a better understanding of the appropriate utilisation of these ETPs, companies should seek guidance from solution providers, as it has the potential to enhance the productivity of the manufacturing process. “Local governments have enforced laws that restrict the use of freshwater and the release of hazardous substances from wastewater. DuPont Water Solutions is helping to address these wastewater regulatory challenges with our Minimum liquid discharge (MLD) solution. We offer proven, reliable, and the broadest portfolio of integrated solutions, including Ion Exchange Resins, Membrane Bioreactors, Ultrafiltration, Reverse Osmosis & Nanofiltration membranes that can be uniquely tailored to meet specific water treatment needs,” explains Chrys Fernandes, Business Head – India Subregion, DuPont Water Solutions.

Textile mill operators often use inefficient water treatment practices that are expensive. “Our MLD solutions have the potential to minimise operating costs and maximise water recovery while reducing the amount of energy required to operate. This helps the local textile operators adopt a less expensive water treatment approach to wastewater management and adhere to government regulations,” concludes Fernandes.

There is a perception that these companies are solely incorporating technological specifications in line with their multinational clients, while neglecting other recommendations put forth by solution providers.

How is it lucrative?

Incorporating ETPs and ZLDs into a textile manufacturing unit is a mutually beneficial situation for the manufacturer. It has numerous benefits as it ensures compliance with environmental rules and regulations, the integration of ETPs guarantees manufacturers a positive impact on the environment by eliminating harmful pollutants/contaminants. A well-maintained ETP enables the manufacturer to achieve long-term cost savings. Therefore, a manufacturer should consider it not as a substantial expense but as an asset to the organisation.

Government officials or related solution providers should inspect manufacturing plants and provide pre- and post-analysis reports after installing effluent treatment plants (ETPs). Proper disposal of leftover salts is essential to prevent their discharge into natural water sources. The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) organization educates textile companies on producing dyes and auxiliary chemicals free of harmful compounds. However, widespread knowledge of these norms does not guarantee compliance. The company should proactively undertake these initiatives and strive to contribute to creating a better place to live in.

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