Innovation

Do You Have What It Takes To Rethink Fashion?

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Global expansion of Redress Design Award feeds urgent need to embed sustainability into the fashion industry as an economic necessity.
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Entering the eighth competition cycle of the Redress Design Award, organisers

Redress – a Hong Kong environmental NGO committed to reducing textile waste – are as determined as ever to intensify their impact on the fashion industry. In a year which is widely marked as a critical tipping point for consumers, designers and brands to incorporate sustainability across the fashion value chain, the 2018 cycle of the world’s largest sustainable design competition has expanded to a truly global search for emerging talent. Amidst ongoing industry pressures to produce more clothes at less cost, the Redress Design Award continues to shine a light on the push for sustainability, and the growing power of the circular economy, whilst championing emerging talent to fuel this new future for fashion.

An official launch event at Eaton House in Hong Kong marked the opening of the Redress Design Award 2018 (formerly the EcoChic Design Award), further strengthening Hong Kong’s position as a leading sustainable fashion hub in Asia. With the continued support of Create Hong Kong, who have sponsored the competition since its inception in 2011, the award offers the top ten finalists the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong in September 2018 to present their innovative waste-reducing collections and vie for First Prize, to design a collection for up-cycled brand, The R Collective, proving to the world that sustainable fashion is not just a trend but instead a business reality.

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FEEDING AN INDUSTRY GAP

A recent industry report predicts sales across nearly all fashion categories will almost triple between 2016 and 2018. Meanwhile the number of garments produced annually now exceeds 100 billion pieces. With this rapid rise in production and consumption comes a staggering increase in waste, as consumers buy more and more whilst simultaneously disposing of their clothing twice as fast as they did 15 years ago. In Hong Kong alone, approximately 125,195 tonnes of textiles were sent to landfills in 2016.

Redress Founder, Christina Dean commented, “The fashion world’s ethical barometers are now switched on and we’re seeing an overarching yearning for positive change. Hope is now sewn into the core of fashion. We are now at a critical tipping point to act, especially for emerging designers who are ready to prove to the world that circular fashion can be a beautiful, retail reality.”

Hong Kong designer, Victor Chu, who is one of over 130 fashion game-changers in the growing Redress Design Award Alumni Network, co-designed The R Collective’s inaugural up-cycled collection, which launched in Lane Crawford and Barneys New York. He commented, “I remember being quite shocked as a student when I learned through the Redress Design Award that around 80% of a product’s environmental impact is locked in at the design stage. My experience in the competition and then later joining the design team at The R Collective has shown me how my design decisions can be part of a positive solution from the outset. What’s more, I really believe that there is retail appetite for sustainable fashion in Hong Kong, Asia and the rest of the world!”

The Redress Design Award 2018 is now open to emerging designers and students with less than three years’ industry experience. Applications are now being accepted until the closing date on 13 March 2018. Applicants are tasked to design a sustainable collection that re-claims unwanted textiles in unexpected ways and they must source 100 percent textile waste for their competition collections. In addition to this, designers must incorporate one or more of the three core sustainable design techniques of zero-waste, up-cycling and reconstruction in their designs. Various career-changing and educational prizes are up for grabs, including first prize with The R Collective to create an upcycled collection for retail, a mentorship with sustainable visionary, Orsola de Castro and multiple other professional prizes. The ten finalists will later compete to win in Hong Kong in early September 2018 at a live grand final fashion show at the city’s fashion week.

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Watch Frontline Fashion, a documentary that traces the journey of finalists from the 2016 cycle in Mumbai on 17th February.

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For a True War on Waste, the Fashion Industry Must Spend More on Research

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by Mark Liu

The rise of fast fashion in Australia means 6000 kg of clothing is dumped in landfill every 10 minutes. The ABC’s War On Waste visualised this statistic by piling a giant mound of clothing waste in the middle of the city. So what to do about it?

A scene from the ABC’s War on Waste. ABC

Sustainable fashion experts advocate abstaining from buying fast fashion, promoting clothing swaps and repairing old clothing. Others suggest buying organic and ethically-sourced clothes or designing clothing using zero waste techniques. The hope is that greater transparency in supply chains will lead to an end to sweatshops and unsustainable fashion practices.

These are admirable initiatives, but they only reduce wastage or delay garments from ending up in landfill. They do not address the fact that the scale of fast fashion is so massive it can easily eclipse other sustainability initiatives. Nor do they address the wastefulness of existing technologies and the urgent need to research new ones.

Even if we could magically stop the global production of all garments, we would still need new, green technology to clean up the waste we have already created. There are long-term strategies for green technologies such as electric cars, but where are the major companies and research institutes developing the next generation of sustainable fashion technologies? The development of new synthetic biology technologies may be the key.

From catwalk to research

I would like to share my journey from zero waste fashion design pioneer to trans-disciplinary fashion researcher to highlight the challenges faced by sustainable fashion and the need for more research.

Ten years ago, I presented my “Zero-Waste” Fashion collection at London Fashion Week. I and other sustainable designers at the time took the waste streams of other industries such as scrap materials and leftover fabric and created our collections from them. I was selected for “Estethica”, a new initiative created by sustainable fashion gurus Orsola De Castro, Filippo Ricci and Anna Orsini from the British Fashion Council. Sustainable fashion was shown on London catwalks next to luxury fashion – a revolutionary step for the time.

I pioneered a way of creating tailored, high fashion garments so that all the pieces of a garment fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle and no waste was created. Conventional pattern cutting creates about 15% wastage of material, even if the pattern has been optimised by a computer. I wanted to systemically change the way clothing was made.

To design a garment with zero waste requires new patternmaking techniques, based on advanced mathematics. Author provided

But the problem with zero-waste design is that it is very difficult to create. It requires a skilled designer to simultaneously imagine the garment as a 3D item and a flat pattern, while trying to fit the pieces together like a jigsaw. It is easy to make an unfitted or baggy garment, but creating something that looks good and fits the body was a real challenge.

Even after all these years, most contemporary zero-waste fashion is still not tailored to the body. I practised this technique for years to master it. It required breaking all the rules of conventional pattern-making and creating new techniques based on advanced mathematics.

These were exciting times. Our fabrics were organic, we made everything locally and ensured everyone was paid an ethical wage. The press loved our story. But problems started to emerge when it came to sales. We had to sell more expensive garments, using a smaller range of fabrics – our materials and labour costs were higher than those of companies that produced overseas. Often fashion buyers would say they loved what we did, but after looking at the price tag would politely take their business elsewhere.

As a sustainable fashion designer, my impact was limited. It was also impossible to teach zero-waste fashion design without explaining how advanced mathematics applied to it. It was time to try a new approach, so I decided to apply science and maths to traditional fashion techniques.

My PhD research explored the underlying geometry of fashion pattern-making. Combining fashion with science allowed the traditional techniques and artistry of making garments to be explained and communicated to scientist and engineers.

Consumers have embraced fast fashion. Shutterstock

In the meantime, fast fashion companies rapidly expanded, with Zara, Topshop and H&M reaching Australia by 2011. They produced massive amounts of cheap products making low margins on each garment. Consumers quickly became addicted to the instant gratification of this retail experience. The size and scale of their production produced hundreds of tonnes of garments every day.

The limits of fashion technology

Fast fashion companies such as H&M have developed recycling initiatives in which consumers can exchange old clothing for discount vouchers. This is supposed to prevent clothing from going to landfill, instead recycling it into new clothing.

However, there are those who are sceptical of H&M’s recycling process. In 2016, investigative journalist Lucy Siegle crunched the numbers and concluded that “it appears it would take 12 years for H&M to use up 1,000 tons of fashion waste”. This, she said, was the amount of clothing they produce in about 48 hours.

A 2016 H&M sustainability report reveals that only 0.7% of their clothes are actually made from recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials. In the report, H&M acknowledges :

Today, this is not possible because the technology for recycling is limited. For this reason, the share of recycled materials in our products is still relatively small.

In fact, their 2016 annual report states that more research is needed:

if a greater proportion of recycled fibres is to be added to the garments without compromising quality, and also to be able to separate fibres contained in mixed materials.

Sustainable technologies strive for a “circular economy”, in which materials can be infinitely recycled. Yet this technology is only in its infancy and needs much more research funding. H&M’s Global Change Award funds five start-up companies with a total of 1 million Euros for new solutions. Contrast this with the millions required by the most basic Silicon Valley start-ups or billions for major green technology companies such as Tesla or SolarCity. There is a dire need for disruptive new fashion technology.

Many of the promising new technologies require getting bacteria or fungi to grow or biodegrade the fabrics for us – this is a shift to researching the fundamental technologies behind fashion items.

For example, it takes 2700L of water and over 120 days to grow enough cotton to make a T-shirt. However, in nature, bacteria such as “acetobacter xylinum” can grow a sheet of cellulose in hours. Clothing grown from bacteria has been pioneered by Dr Suzanne Lee. If a breakthrough can be made so that commercially grown cotton can be grown from bacteria, it may be possible to replace cotton fields with more efficient bacteria vats.

But why just stick with cotton? Fabrics can be generated from milk, seaweed, crab shells, banana waste or coconut waste. Companies such as Ecovate can feed fabric fibres to mushroom spore called mycelium to create bioplastics or biodegradable packaging for companies such as Dell. Adidas has 3D printed a biodegradable shoe from spider silk developed by AM silk.

Although I began my journey as a fashion designer, a new generation of materials and technologies has pulled me from the catwalk into the science lab. To address these complex issues, collaboration between designers, scientist, engineers and business people has become essential.

To clean up the past and address the waste problems of the future, further investment in fashion technology is urgently needed.

*This story first appeared on The Conversation

How are Researchers Using Silk to Create Large Scale Biotechnology Solutions?

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silk-minWhen we think about silk, we only really think of its use in the textile industry, but the natural protein fibre can also be a valuable contribution to science and engineering. The hairline threads are often overshadowed by synthetic man-made fibres despite the the outstanding properties silk has. Insect spun silk is stronger than steel, lightweight and flexible.

Researchers in Germany have taken inspiration from the lacewing – an insect which lays its eggs on stalks made of silk with a high tensile strength. Now the University of Bayreuth has constructed a special gene sequence which enables bacteria to produce the silk protein. They are working on ways to produce the protein in large quantities by using biotechnology. Their aim is to use the material in the future as a high-grade rigid fiber, for example, in lightweight plastics in transportation technology. It can also be used in medical technology as a biocompatible silk coating on implants.

Lacewings are insects which are already being used by farmers to combat aphids. To protect their offspring, lacewings lay their eggs on very fine but extremely resilient silk stalks. It then creates a thread which hardens in the air within a few seconds securing the egg under the leaf. In order to produce these impressive fibers, the green lacewing excretes a protein secretion onto the leaf. The threads are finer than human hair, but they are strong enough to support the weight of the egg even when the leaf is turned over.

The Fraunhofer IAP which is heading the project researches and develops polymer applications. It supports companies and partners in the customised development and optimisation of: innovative and sustainable materials, processing aids and processes. In addition to characterising polymers, the institute also produces and processes polymers in an environmental-friendly and cost-effective way on a laboratory and pilot plant scale.

A team led by Professor Thomas Scheibel from the Chair of Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth conducted the preliminary molecular-biological work. They constructed a special gene sequence which enables bacteria to produce the silk protein. Martin Schmidt is now optimising the manufacturing process at the Fraunhofer IAP so that the silk protein can be produced inexpensively on an industrial scale. After this step it will be possible to develop the material.

“Unlike most other types of silk, the green lacewing’s egg stalk has a special structure with fascinating mechanical properties… We would like to transfer these special properties to fibres made from this silk. However, until now it has not been possible to produce this type of silk protein in sufficient quantities and purities,” explains Martin Schmidt, biotechnologist at the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam-Golm.

“This special property makes it interesting for medical technology and as a reinforcement fiber in lightweight engineering, for example in cars, airplanes or ships. We are pleased to be working in partnership with the Fraunhofer IAP, which is able to lend its expertise to this project in every area – from the development of the silk material to the finished fibre,“ explains Dr. Lin Römer, scientific director of AMSilk. The project is being funded by the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR), a project management organisation of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

For 25 years the Fraunhofer IAP has specialised in the development and characterisation of fibers and fiber-reinforced composites for lightweight engineering and in the development of biobased polymers. At the institute’s own spinning plant, technical fibers can be manufactured on an industrial scale either from a solution or a melt. “Combining biotechnology and polymer research under one roof creates ideal conditions to produce fibers made from green lacewing silk. This is an enormous advantage for the development of innovative fields of application,“ says Schmidt.

*This story first appeared on Bio-Based World News

Reebok Wants to Make Biodegradable Shoes from Corn

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Reebok has announced it wants to produce plant-based footwear made from organic cotton and corn.

The US-based company, which is a subsidiary of adidas, has launched the Cotton + Corn initiative as part of its effort to make footwear from “things that grow” instead of materials that aren’t biodegradable.

“Unfortunately, the fact is most shoes just end up in landfills, which is something we are trying to change,” said Reebok president Matt O’Toole.

“As a brand, we will be focusing on sustainability with the Cotton + Corn programme as well as other initiatives we have in the works.”

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(Health Gauge/Flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sportswear brand has teamed up with DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products, which produces a biodegradable rubber known as Susterra propanediol that is derived from industrial-grown corn.

The soles of the shoes will be made using this rubber while the rest will be composed of organic cotton.

“This is really just the first step for us,” said Bill McInnis, of Reebok Future. “With Cotton + Corn we’re focused on all three phases of the product lifecycle.

“First, with product development we’re using materials that grow and can be replenished, rather than the petroleum-based materials commonly used today.

“Second, when the product hits the market we know our consumers don’t want to sacrifice on how sneakers look and perform.

“Finally, we care about what happens to the shoes when people are done with them. So we’ve focused on plant-based materials such as corn and cotton at the beginning, and compostability in the end.”

The company wants to bring its plant-based trainers to market later this year.

*This story first appeared on BT

 

 

 

China Using Electron Beams to Treat Textile Wastewater

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Image Credit: Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute, Tsinghua University, Beijing

Textile dyeing accounts for one fifth of all industrial wastewater pollution generated worldwide and much of it, particularly in developing countries in Asia, goes untreated. Now, China is employing electron beams to treat effluent from textile dyeing plants, ushering in a new era for radiation technology.

“Despite advances in conventional wastewater treatment technology in recent years, radiation remains the only technology that can treat the most stubborn colorants in wastewater,” said Suni Sabharwal, Radiation Processing Specialist at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “The problem is that the technology exists in developed countries, while most of the need now is in the developing world.”

To bridge the knowledge gap, the IAEA ran a coordinated research project on the technology, including its transfer to several countries, mostly in Asia. Chinese researchers, for example, have benefited from the advice of experts from Hungary, Korea and Poland in the adoption of the technology and the construction of the plant, said Jianlong Wang, Deputy Director of the Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the principal researcher behind the project.

The new plant in Jinhua city, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, will treat 1500 cubic meters of wastewater per day, around a sixth of the plant’s output. “If everything goes smoothly, we will be able to roll out technology to the rest of the plant and eventually to other plants across the country,” Wang said.

Before opting for radiation technology using electronic beams, Chinese researchers had run an extensive set of feasibility experiments using the effluent from the plant, comparing electron beam technology with other methods. “Electron beam technology was the clear winner as both the more ecological and more effective option,” Wang added.

Other countries with large textile manufacturing industries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are also considering introducing the technology with the assistance of the IAEA. India is already using gamma irradiation to treat municipal sewage sludge.

In standard wastewater treatment, bacteria are used to digest and breakdown pollutants. However, the molecules in textile effluent cannot be treated with bacteria. To color textiles, compounds with large, long and complex chains are used. Wastewater from the industry can contain more than 70 complex chemicals that do not easily degrade.

By irradiating the effluent using electron beams, scientists can break these complex chemicals into smaller molecules, which, in turn, can be treated and removed using normal biological processes. Irradiation is done using short-lived reactive radicals than can interact with a wide range of pollutants and break them down.

Chinese researchers are also considering the use of electron beam technology to treat residues from pharmaceutical plants that produce antibiotics. These residues are currently handled as hazardous waste because they contain antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes that cannot be destroyed using conventional technologies, such as composting or oxidation. Research has revealed that electron beam technology can effectively decompose the residual antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes, Wang explained. The establishment of a demonstration plant at an industrial scale is planned for later this year.

*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands

Is Adidas’ Tech Venture a Leading Signal for the Future of Sustainable Fast Fashion? 

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Sweaters are pictured at the Adidas Knit for You store in Berlin, Germany. Source: Reuters.

ADIDAS is envisioning a brand new way of adapting to the fickle trends of the fast fashion industry – the company has been trying out an in-store technology to knit customized 200 euro (US$215) sweaters for customers within the day in order to tap into fast fashion with a personal twist.

The technology has been implemented in a pop-up store in a Berlin mall, and allowed customers to customize their own merino wool sweater according to their desires.

The in-store machine scans the customer’s body to produce the right fit and size unique to each person. Customers would then choose a design from a range of possible options and then experiment with different color combinations. Once they had made their choices, the machine would knit the sweater in situ, and then the sweater is finished by hand, washed and dried before being collected by the customer.

This new venture is part of a plan to drive up the company’s operating margins to levels on par with rival Nike by 2020. The group is experimenting with strategies to cut short the delivery times of new designs down to 12 to 18 months.

It is a strategy which has worked in the sneaker industry, but now the “Knit for You” campaign aims to add individuality into the mix, aspect often lost in ready-made products.

But speed still lies at the heart of Adidas’s game plan. The sportswear company is aiming for 50 percent of its products to be made in a faster time frame by 2020 – double the rate it produced products in 2016 – which they expect will allow them to boost the products they sell at full price by 70 percent.

And they aren’t the only ones who are banking on speed to top their competition – Japanese basic wear giant, Uniqlo, are also hoping pushing for higher production rates and supplying their stores faster will help it usurp the fast fashion crown from Inditex’s Zara, who reported US$25 billion worth of sales in 2016.

“We need to be fast,” Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai was quoted saying in an interview with Bloomberg. “We need to deliver products customers want quickly.”

Like Adidas, Uniqlo is trying to leverage technology to launch forward fast.

The company’s Ariake facility along Tokyo’s waterfront brings together marketing and design teams to streamline the operations, an outfit Uniqlo’s owner, Fast Retailing, wants to replicate in more locations. The hope is that much of the company’s operations can be slowly automated and artificial intelligence can be increasingly used to predict sales patterns.

The goal to ultimately unseat Zara might be a bit of a stretch for Fast Retailing who aims for US$26 billion by 2021, but Yanai believes Uniqlo’s focus on everyday clothing that keeps fashion forwardness and practicality in mind is a recipe for success.

Uniqlo’s no-frills approach to fashion requires less production time in general and the company could focus on upping the quality of the designs.

“Zara sells fashion rather than catering to customers’ needs,” Yanai said. “We will sell products that are rooted in people’s day-to-day lives, and we do so based on what we hear from customers.”

Fast Fashion margins are shrinking

Adidas and Uniqlo might be tapping into an industry that is already facing its twilight days.

Once the machine that drove the fashion industry, fast fashion is a term coined to describe clothes emulating catwalk trends that are quickly replicated for mass production, resulting in “micro seasons” and low wages for garment workers in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Fast fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M would churn out fresh pieces that would be rolled into stores on a weekly basis. Their rise crippled retailers that typically worked on a season-by-season basis, and relied heavily on brick-and-mortar stores to sell their clothes.

Fast fashion retailers harnessed the rise of e-commerce to peddle their wares online, spending less on advertising and relying on web analytics to chart consumer habits.

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Staff members proceed with the measuring process on a computer to order a knitting pattern at the Adidas Knit for You store in Berlin, Germany. Source: Reuters.

“If you are a fashion apparel retailer, you have to have a steady flow of newness,” Customer Growth Partners president Craig Johnson said. “You can’t just regurgitate what was hot last year.”

But that all seems to be changing.

Recently, Inditex said their profitability had shrunk to an eight-year low, while their rival H&M said their profits fell in March for the first time in four years.

The changing fortunes of the two companies have two implications: Firstly, consumer habits are changing. Large scale campaigns by activists and marketing efforts by retailers have resulted in greater awareness of the side effects of fast fashion – most notably highlighted by the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.

The change in sales numbers indicates more and more people are spending a smaller chunk of their disposable income on clothing, and are instead diverting those resources to other areas, such as electronics or travel. LA Times reports less than four percent of every dollar is now spent on apparel compared to the eight percent that was spent in the mid-90s.

Secondly, apparel companies are now finding their margins under siege from rising production costs as the quality of living in once-poor manufacturing companies – such as Vietnam and India – and the cost of materials increase.

Fast fashion no longer appears to be the huge money-making machine it once was, and retailers are now turning to new strategies to captivate buyers.

Value Fashion on the Rise

The emergence of Adidas “Knit for You” campaign speaks to the broader question of the change fashion is experiencing; clothes tailored to the individual is beginning to matter more.

The sweater campaign’s focus on customization indicates exclusivity is far more important than the ability to buy the same shirt in six different colors for a few dollars.

“It is very individual. It is like knitting your own sweater,” Adidas customer Christina Sharif told Reuters, adding she ordered shorter arms on her electric blue sweater than the standard model.

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Employees of Fast Retailing Co., operator of Japan’s Uniqlo clothing outlets, work at the company’s new headquarters building called UNIQLO CITY TOKYO, in Tokyo, Japan. Pic: Reuters 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the speed it aims to achieve, Adidas and Uniqlo are recreating the meaning of “fast fashion” into one that leverages technology to improve efficiency rather than sacrifices resources and engages obsolescence.

Uniqlo has maintained its commitment to the culture of normcore everyday wear, but expanded its range to include limited edition art-as-fashion pieces.

It engaged top-line designers such as Christopher Lemaire, supermodel Ines de la Fressange and New York’s Museum of Modern Art to produce lines that gave its everyday wear a fashionable and enduring twist.

It is a sign the company understands the power of fashion as an identifier and is moving into what Lemaire calls “slow fast fashion” – affordable (though pricier than Uniqlo’s main line) and accessible, with a know-it-when-you-see-it specialness

“People have been realizing [fast fashion] no longer can go on the way it used to – overconsumerism and overproduction are a disaster,” Lemaire says.

“You just need a good pair of pants. If you find a good pair, you don’t have to change every six months.”

*This story first appeared on Tech Wire Asia

China’s First Wastewater Plant Using Electron Beams Opens

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Image Courtesy: arieschem.com

World’s leading textile producer China has opened its first ever plant that uses electron beams to treat industrial wastewater in vast textile dyeing industry, ushering in a new era for radiation technology. The new plant in Jinhua city, 300 kilometres south of Shanghai, will treat 1,500 cubic metres of wastewater per day, around a sixth of the plant’s output.

Jianlong Wang, Deputy Director of Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute at Tsinghua University, Beijing and the principal researcher behind the project, commented, “Chinese researchers have benefited from the advice of experts from Hungary, Korea and Poland in the adoption of the technology and the construction of the plant.”

Explaining the technology, Wang elaborated that bacteria are the workhorses of wastewater treatment as they digest and break down pollutants. Wastewater from textile dyeing contains molecules that cannot be treated with bacteria. It can contain more than 70 complex chemicals that do not easily degrade hence to break these complex chemicals into smaller molecules, which, in turn, can be treated and removed using normal biological processes, electron beams are used by irradiating. Irradiation is done using short-lived reactive radicals than can interact with a wide range of pollutants and break them down.

Before opting for radiation technology using electron beams, Chinese researchers had run an extensive set of feasibility experiments using the effluent from the plant, comparing electron beam technology with other methods. “Electron beam technology was the clear winner as both the more ecological and more effective option,” Wang added.

It’s worth mentioning here the textile dyeing accounts for a fifth of all industrial wastewater pollution generated worldwide and lots of wastewater goes untreated.

*This story first appeared on Apparel Resources