In a clear message on sustainability, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently donned a blue vest made of recycled plastic bottles, while presenting his speech at the Parliament.
- Under its Green Initiative of Sustainable Garments, Indian Oil Corporation Limited, a PSU makes garments from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.
- The company’s flagship uniform brand for its employees, ‘Unbottled’, was launched by PM during the India Energy Week held in Bengaluru, India from 6th to 8th February 2023.
- Under this initiative, the company will make uniforms for the customer attendants of other Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs), non-combat uniforms for Army, uniforms/dresses for institutions and sales to retail customers.
How PET Bottles Transforms into a garment?
- For the utilisation of PET bottles and other plastic materials for making fabric, all the discarded bottles are first washed, dried and crushed into small chips.
- The uniform shaped tiny plastic chips are then heated and passed through a spinneret to turn them into polyester staple fibre. This fibre made from waste plastic gets its fluffy, woolly texture in crimping machine.
- Later, the polyester staple fibre is spun to produce yarn which is further knitted or woven into polyester fabric.
- The PET recycling helps in reducing import burden of fossil feedstock and also requires around 59% less energy for production compared to virgin PET (made from fossil sources) and has around 79% lower carbon footprint.
What is Sustainable Fashion?
It refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly. It can save money in the long run as they last longer and require less frequent replacements.
Need for sustainable fashion –
- Climate change narrative — As there is a global focus on climate change, it has increasingly been imperative for textile and garment manufacturers to realign their operations to improve their ecological footprint and embrace alternative fibres that are recyclable and environment-friendly.
- Polluting sector — It is estimated that globally, one-fifth of industrial water pollution and 10 per cent of total carbon emissions is contributed by the textile industry.
- Also, 35 kg of textile waste is generated per person every year in the US alone.
- The National Climate Change Journal (2018) also lists textile manufacturing as one of the most polluting sectors of the economy.
- It emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is more than international aircraft and maritime shipping combined.
- Environmental hazard — Many traditional fashion materials, such as cotton and polyester, are not environmentally friendly as they require large amounts of water and energy to produce.
- Inefficient production process — The fast fashion model being relied upon by many fashion companies prioritises speed and cost over sustainability, leads to overproduction and waste, as well as poor labour practices.
- For example, according to Levi Strauss, 3,781 litres of water are used during the production and use phase of one pair of its jeans while 33.4 kg of carbon dioxide is created throughout its lifetime.
- This includes growing cotton, processing denim and washing at home.
- Wreckful disposal method — The fashion industry produces a huge amount of waste like non-biodegradable leftovers and traditional disposal methods, such as landfilling or incineration, are not environmentally friendly.
- Larger impression — Fast fashion has driven the perception of clothing as a disposable item and a seasonal indulgence rather than a durable good. Data shows that in the last 20 years, the number of clothes bought has doubled from 50 billion garments to 100 billion.
- Global shift toward sustainability — European Union (EU) has taken the lead to achieve sustainability in the textile sector by 2030.
- It is also testing digital passports on its sustainable clothing brands, where shoppers can scan the code on the label and access the item’s journey, from source to the consumer, tracking its water usage and carbon emissions.
- Also, 32 major fashion companies from around the world including high-end brands like Chanel, Prada and Hermès and athletic apparel names like Nike and Adidas have signed a pact to make the fashion industry eco-friendly.
- Increased raw material costs — The sustainable materials like organic cotton, handlooms and recycled polyester fibres can be more expensive than traditional materials.
- Higher costs of sustainable production — The sustainable production methods, such as using non-toxic dyes and reducing water usage, can also increase costs.
- Consumer unawareness — Consumer sentiment and demand are major challenges for fashion brands, as many consumers may not be aware of the negative effects of fast-produced retail wear on the environment and the benefits of sustainable clothing.
- Lack of technological solutions — The garment manufacturers struggle to meet the demand for more garments due to lack of sophisticated technological solutions related to recycling, waste management and geometric cutting machines to reduce fabric waste.
- Barriers to clothing recycling — It includes inefficient waste collection, an incompetent system of sorting clothes, a lack of recycling innovation, and a funding gap in recycling products.
- Elite domain — The primary challenge is that sustainable clothing in India is confined to the category of designer labels, hand-crafted ingenuity and high fashion.
- Slow mass-market penetration — For example, the polymer company that made PM Modi’s vest out of fibres and yarn from crushed and melted PET bottles, has been around for 14 years. However, this clothing line is yet to enter the mass market or even establish a brand.
What should be done?
- The Indian government should prioritise offering green premiums to eco-friendly firms, assisting them in competing with “conventional fast-fashion rivals,”. It could also enable governmental support through GST reduction and other incentives.
- The fashion companies must also work to educate consumers and collaborate with policymakers, marketers, and retailers to promote sustainable fashion by rationalizing cost structure, legitimate endorsement by Bollywood stars, sports ambassadors, etc.
- The commercial scaling of recycling technologies needs to be promoted by eco-fashion brands to increase production of eco-friendly clothes.
- The companies must also shift to a slower, more deliberate production process that prioritises quality over quantity to reduce waste and promote recycling and repurposing of clothing.
The sustainable fashion is not only about setting up a zero-carbon production and supply chain, it is also about including fair trade and ethical practices for labour, nurturing artisanship, recycling and upcycling every bit of sequin, all of which raises production costs. Hence, the companies should find a balance between social, environmental and economic considerations.
Also, a mass campaign is needed to capture the national imagination, otherwise “green clothing” will be reduced to efforts of women’s cooperatives and NGOs while “re-use, recycle, renew or upcycle” will remain confined to individual efforts.
Source – The Indian Express
QUESTION – PM Modi’s recent style statement with sustainable fashion choices may have given rise to its demand but the road ahead for it is tardy and bumpy. Discuss.