How can we stop ground water contamination by switching to hemp fabric?
Isn’t it strange we treat water like trash despite it being a crucial element for life? As UNESCO’s own data reveals, some 80 percent of wastewater on the planet ends up in rivers and lakes, and eventually oceans, all of which is like a lifeline for our own life.
With a burgeoning population and rapid growth in industries, we throw more effluents to nature than it could handle. The outcome is the problem of water pollution that will become a grave threat to our health if left unchecked.
It’s become an existential threat
We cannot ignore the fact that the supply of freshwater to humans isn’t infinite. In fact, we can access less than one percent of the fresh water on earth. And yet, most of us demonstrate scant regard for natural resources which are so critical for our own existence. If we don’t mend our ways, the challenges will keep mounting with each passing year.
Water consumed by most humans across the world is laden with potentially harmful contaminants, from lead and copper to arsenic. Hazardous substances, such as chemicals or microorganisms, have degraded water quality in natural resources and made these toxic for humans. Worse, most of these substances have been released by humans.
Causes of grave water pollution
You don’t need to be an expert in environmental science to understand the causes of water pollution. Toxic substances we callously release from farms, factories, and towns dissolve in water, resulting in deterioration of water quality.
The textile industry has been among the biggest factors behind water pollution. Though a source of livelihood for many and producing something essential, the industry impacts the environment in a grave manner. Contaminants are released from all three sources – farms, factories, and towns.
More than 70 chemicals reach water bodies when textiles undergo the dyeing process. These contaminants don’t just degrade water quality but negatively impacts the whole ecosystem. Exposure to water laden with chemicals makes us suffer from all sorts of health problems.
If you don’t know yet, cotton is a huge water guzzler. 2.6% of annual global water usage is just for the production of cotton. Moreover, cotton production also requires pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in humongous quantities. Cotton crop is very sensitive to pests and farmers have to invest heavily in the pesticides. It not just pour out chemicals in our ecosystem but also increases the costs for the farmers.
According to an estimate, 25% of the global consumption of insecticides and 10% of pesticides is only for growing cotton. As if this is not enough, people engaged in growing cotton confront the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.
The damage cotton unleashes is colossal, no doubt, but thankfully, we have options. There are ways to minimize the ill-effects of cotton and make the textile industry-friendly to the environment. Hemp sits at the top among cotton options.
Don’t yet trust hemp for dealing with water contamination? Well, here is a drop-down.
Limiting textile production to sustainable materials
Materials that impose little or no burden on the environment and can be reproduced in a short period of time are termed sustainable resources. Though examples of sustainable resources for producing textiles include hemp, soy silk, alpaca wool, etc. the foremost among these options is hemp. It requires minimal use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Even the retting process and dyeing can be completed in a chemical-free manner.
Treatment of dye effluents
When making textiles, dye effluents will be there. In such a scenario, it is comforting to know that there are methods available for treating dye effluents. These include absorption to solid matrices and biological treatment. Sure, these methods have their own disadvantages, but research is on and better options will be available soon.
Hemp stands out as it can be transformed from plant to fabric with minimal or no usage of chemicals, thus keeping friendly with the environment.
Recycling is a key element of the sustainability factor. It prolongs the total life of the fabric. Even after rejected by the users, the clothes can be recycled. This drastically reduces the ecological footprint of the fabric. Textiles made of hemp fabric are sturdy and can be recycled several times.
Hemp vs cotton: a comparison
You may have some idea by now why hemp is a better option for making fabric than cotton, other popular fabric. Well, let us compare the two right away:
- Cotton is soft, breathable, and lightweight, yet when it comes to the environment, the influence of cotton is drastically negative.
- Cotton consumes 5.5 to 6.5 months to reach maturity.
- Just to produce enough cotton to make a t-shirt, you require 2700 liters of water.
- Production of regular cotton clothes requires heavy usage of chemical dyes.
- Cotton is a glaring example of a product becoming a victim of its own success. As cotton production boomed as a cash crop, the amount of water, pesticides, chemical dyes, etc. it was guzzling also went up.
- Farmers began producing cotton in big numbers as it was bringing them cash; however, it was a different story that they were now using pesticides and other harmful chemicals several times more than before.
Here is an example that will provide you some more insight. Only one percent of the United States’ land is used for growing cotton, but amazing it takes up 50% of the pesticides!
Often, excessive production of cotton in a region results in the groundwater levels going down sharply. Cotton farming also ends up pouring an endless amount of poisonous chemicals in underground water and other water bodies.
Let us now pit cotton farming against hemp. Termed a super-plant, hemp grows at a stupendous pace, taking just 3 to 4 months to be ready for harvest. A single hemp plant produces 220% more fiber compared to a cotton plant.
What is more, hemp requires little water to grow. Generally, rainwater is enough for hemp to grow. It would also repel pests naturally. Cultivation of hemp also adds to the fertility of the soil. Long roots of hemp hold the soil strength and prevent eroding.
When it comes to strength, hemp is beyond comparison. Research has revealed that the weakest hemp fiber is stronger than the weakest type of steel. You will have to exert more pressure to crack hemp fiber than any other.
It is nature’s beauty that hemp is sturdy yet very breathable. It also has inherent antibacterial attributes, eliminating any need for you to use pesticides.
The usability factor
Let us first have a glance on the usage of cotton, apart from fabric, which is used for making clothes, bedsheets, and quilts. Cotton seeds are used for feeding cattle and making oil which finds usage in coffee filters and cosmetics.
As for hemp, various part of the plant help make
Bast fiber – clothing, carpets, paper, building materials, paper, insulation
Hurds – building materials, animal bedding
Oil – edible, cosmetics, plastics, paint, pharmaceutical, mechanical
Protein – human feed, animal feed
Whole Seed – Bird seed, propagation
Fuel – alcohol
It is evident that hemp production helps farmers generate more income and products made of it are usable in more areas of economy.
An insight into the environmental impact of Bt cotton
Regarded to be a blessing for cotton farmers, Bt cotton has wreaked havoc worldwide. In India, BT cotton was introduced in 2005. It did boost the production for a while though.
In case you are unaware of how Bt cotton seeds work. These seeds are genetically modified, having genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which is deadly for bollworm caterpillars, the cotton pest which ruins the crop.
Or to put it in a better way, this was what Bt cotton was supposed to do. For a couple of years, things went as expected. However, as often happens with genetic seeds, the bollworm slowly grew tolerant of the genes. Many farmers lost all their money because of this.
You can view the damage caused by the bollworm first hand by just walking into a Bt cotton field and splitting some cotton bolls. The pink bollworms will be visible.
Some studies attribute the initial productivity to heavy usage of fertilizers. However, people failed to realize at the time that excessive application of chemical fertilizers will ruin soil fertility eventually.
It is important to choose a seed variety that suits the type of soil in your fields. However, Bt cotton seeds of numerous varieties are up there in the market and most farmers have no idea which of these seeds to choose. Worse, fake seeds are available as well. Using these seeds only results in the crops getting ruined.
The introduction of Bt cotton in India has only culminated in strengthening the hands of multinational corporations (MNCs) at the cost of farmers. As a study conducted by The Council for Social Development (CSD) underlined, Bt cotton propped up already high fertilizer and water usage, which filled the coffers of the multinationals. In this period (2002-2008) the average usage of fertilizers increased from 95 kg/hectare in the pre-Bt cotton era (1996-2001) to 120 kg/hectare.
Glenn Stone, an eminent American anthropologist stated that Indian farmers are on a seed and pesticide treadmill, which will eventually create a crisis.
How hemp squares off vs Bt cotton
While Bt cotton destroyed vast swathes of land and crops valuing in millions, hemp restored the livelihood of thousands of villagers who had abandoned their hamlets for earning. In remote areas of Uttarakhand, a hilly state in India, there are scores of villages that wore a deserted look because had most people had left for towns. Thanks to the government lifting the ban on hemp, these villages could be connected to a vibrant hemp economy. The poor folk could now earn their livelihood in their village itself.
Continuous cultivation of hemp helped in recovering considerable damage inflicted by cotton. The fertility of the fields got restored and the water levels improved. As hemp plantations require negligible pesticides and fertilizers, nature was able to heal itself.
A story you shouldn’t miss – cotton becoming its own victim
The quick rise may sometimes result in a rapid fall. Take cotton. Its success as a cash crop prompted many farmers to sow it repeatedly in their fields. This badly managed the fertility and contaminated ground water.
As no second crop was sown between successive cotton crops, the bollworms got the opportunity to develop resistance to protein. The popularity of Bt cotton thus eventually resulted in the poisoning of groundwater.
Fabric processing and groundwater contamination
One of the stages in the production of clothes is processing. Considerable contamination of groundwater happens in this phase because of the use of chemicals.
During the processing of cotton, chemicals of various toxicity are used. This includes the phases of retting, dyeing, bleaching, and finishing. Chemicals used in these stages include formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, benzidinecause, and azo dyes,
As for hemp, not only the cultivation is chemical-free but it extends to the process of retting i.e. separation of fibers from the bark, as well. Mechanical processes are also available, which are not just cheaper but environment-friendly too.
To make sure hemp fabric is totally free of chemicals, you can make sure the product hasn’t been labeled ‘hemp viscose’. This label indicates that the use of chemical processing in making the fabric.
We have put in place a process to ensure all hemp products you get, including fabric, are free of chemicals. Even the dyeing is done in an eco-friendly manner.
New developments in the treatment of wastewater
The humongous amount of wastewater gets generated during the production of fabric. Scientists have been working to find technologies efficient in disposing of wastes.
Some upcoming technologies used for treating wastewater include dual media filter, dissolved air floatation, sand filtration, and tank stabilization, activated carbon filter, flash mixer, secondary clarifiers, and sludge drying beds, clariflocculator, etc. Settable solids are taken out before applying these methods using methods like sedimentations, screening, and grit removal.
However, the downside is – these technologies still have to make a lot of headway. They are mostly limited to the developed world, while in the developing countries, they still follow the traditional way – deposit all the wastewater into an existing river or lake.
Time is calling upon us to use sustainable means for ourselves – not just fabrics, but in other areas of the economy as well. In view of the worsening environmental condition of our planet, which is creating an existential threat to all living beings, it has become imperative for us all to adopt a lifestyle, which is friendly to our environment.
One of the things we need to do with urgency is to preserve our groundwater resources, so critical for our own life. Retting and dyeing of natural fabrics is the foremost reason for the precious groundwater getting contaminated. Cotton, in particular, is a crop that not only requires plenty of water but also sheds off lots of hazardous chemicals in the process of retting and dyeing. These chemicals penetrate into the soil and reach the groundwater, poisoning an essential source of life.
It is high time we break this vicious cycle. Hemp is a potent tool to set aside this grave challenge to humanity. A crop blessed by Mother Nature, hemp can be used in several ways including fabric. Hemp requires a negligible amount of fertilizers and can be processed and dyed in a completely organic manner. This plant has the capacity to set up a textile industry that is totally free of contaminants.