The life cycle of textile products spanning from raw materials to fibre production, textile conversion, distribution and disposal contributes to 5-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, textile industry accounts for the second largest consumption of the world’s water supply, and it greatly pollutes waterways with microplastics and colourants.
With this significant implication on environment and human, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has unveiled a research study to review technology innovations for advancing sustainability of textiles.
Prof. Xiaoming Tao, Director of Research Institute for Intelligent Wearable Systems and Chair Professor of Textile Technology of PolyU and Dr. Svetlana Boriskina of Massachusetts Institute of Technology have teamed up to study technological innovations to reinforce and accelerate green transformation of textiles. The study entitled “Advancing Life Cycles Sustainability of Textiles Through Technological Innovations” was published in Nature Sustainability. The research highlighted a systematic analytical framework, which identifies and elucidates impactful textile technology developments.
The research team analysed impacts of green technologies for textiles based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations Agenda 2030, particularly those concerning the deployment of natural resources, energy and environmental impacts. The study collected 22,724 publications during the past ten years, in which 940 were screened and 215 were studied in details.
In the study findings, sustainability through innovations in raw and fibre materials, manufacturing technologies and textile recycling are discussed as future research and development direction for the industry. These technological developments could also accelerate green transformation of textiles to achieve sustainability.
The study covers topics in:
- green sciences and process based on high-throughput
- data-driven discovery studies to identify and develop sustainable replacement for synthetic polyester and nylon fibres
- biomass-based and degradable fibre-forming materials
- biological science on cultivation of insect- and disease-resistant plant seeds that require less water
- waterless and less-water colouration
- reduction or elimination of production steps
- mono-materially in textiles for proactive material recovery
Prof. Tao said, “The research team spent two years to critically study major technology developments in both industry and laboratories, and their impacts on sustainability in a cradle-to-grave fashion. The team examined the state-of-the-art technology developments meant to solve sustainability issues throughout the complete life cycle of textiles. This study paves the way for an open, systematic and qualitative large-scale data analysis for sustainability research.”
Looking ahead, promotion of green science and technology is crucial to solve sustainability issues from the root to end of textiles life cycle. For instance, large scaled applications of green fibres made from bio-sources will eliminate the poor degradability and microfibre contamination from petroleum derived synthetic fibres. Also, technology developments will significantly reduce energy and water use in textile conversion and consumption processes. Recycling, especially mechanical recycling, will become a major technology for single-material or some blend textiles. Despite of challenges in adaptation, mono-material textiles will be possibly one of the most effective design strategies for proactive material recovery and recycling efficiency.
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Advancing life cycle sustainability of textiles through technological innovations
Article Publication Date
Throughout their life cycle, textiles produce 5–10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume the second-largest amount of the world’s water with polluting microplastics and chemical agents released to waterways. Here we examine the state-of-the-art technology developments meant to solve these problems in a cradle-to-grave fashion. We analyse their impacts with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations Agenda 2030, particularly those concerning the deployment of natural resources, energy and environmental impacts. We follow a systematic analytical framework that identifies and elucidates impactful technologies. We further discuss future directions along which the green transformation of textiles could be accelerated.