Almost everyone buys their clothes, most know what kind of fabric they are wearing, some notice where it was manufactured, and even fewer take the time to acknowledge the process that went into making them. In the Unites States, with the exception of boutique stores and artisan clothing, most of our clothes have been manufactured over seas, shipped to the USA, and folded neatly on store shelves with no residue of its production. However, how is it possible that a shirt which has been woven, dyed, labored over, stitched, and then shipped half way across the globe can cost $7.99 at a department store? What is the true cost of that shirt, and who is paying for it?
Coimbatore, India is a city filled with textile mills and production. But where there is production there is waste. These mills, although good for the economy of the city, cause many problems in terms of pollution. To name a few they cause air pollution, noise pollution, and water pollution. According to a recent research paper by Prakash Nelliyat on the socio-economics of textile industries in India, “Recently, many of the South Asian countries are experiencing severe environmental problems due to their rapid industrialization. This phenomenon is very common where the polluting industries like textile dyeing, leather tanning, paper and pulp processing, sugar manufacturing, etc. thrive as clusters.” Thus a place like Coimbatore, which houses some 25,000 textile mills is suffering because of its growth.
Many people and groups, such as the TAMILNADU POLLUTION CONTROL BOARD, which is a citizen’s charter of the Department of Environment and Forests, are taking action. Since most of the ground and water pollutants are coming out of small industries which are not heavily regulated, the TNPCB operates to measure new industries on sustainable matters. “TNPCB is taking effective steps for safe disposal of hazardous wastes and has completed the inventory of hazardous waste generating units and also identified sites for disposal of hazardous wastes. TNPCB is creating environmental awareness in the State through the Environmental Training Institute, Environmental Awareness Cell, Environmental Awareness Programme, Environmental Pavilion constructed at the Periyar Science and Technology Centre (Chennai), NGO Cell, Publishing of New Letters/Pamphlets on environmental issues etc.” Below is a chart that states their monitoring periods according to the toxicity of the dye colors.
The local Coimbatore universities are also interested in raising awareness and finding a solution to this problem. At the Mettupalayan Forest College, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, researchers propose using eco friendly dyes that will increase both the quality of the surrounding waters, and, as a ramification, the price for consumers. “The main problem identified so far is the large discharge of inorganic salts while the formation of organochlorine compounds cannot be excluded in view of the use of hypochlorite for bleaching of the cotton. The use of more environment friendly production processes would increase the prize in the consumer countries with no more than 10-20%.” These percentages are minimal when compared to the non potable waters that are being directed into Coimbatore, and surrounding town Tirupur.
As the problems become more and more apparent, the concept of designing solutions spreads. In 2007, Indian clothing designer Anita Dongre launched “Grassroot” an eco friendly clothing collection that uses sustainable cloth and non toxic dyes. She has continued this line, and just come out with a 2011 series. Before this “Grassroots”, the idea of sustainable fashion had not yet hit the Indian market. Now, following the trends of the times, and needs of the people, eco friendly clothing is becoming more and more popular.
Despite the raise in monetary costs, people, (myself included) need to be aware of the socioeconomic effects our decisions have, and be willing to compensate. As the people of Coimbatore raise the bar on their environmental standards of textile production, we too can, and will, share the costs.