Environmental Impact of Synthetic Dyes

Synthetic Dyes Impact on the Environment

For decades, the textile industry has mainly used synthetic dyes to color the fabric for our clothing.  The synthetic dyes are nothing short of an environmental and a human health disaster.  From the chemical production of the dyes, to the dying process, that for an average t-shirt will use 16-20 liters of water.  The fabric will absorb 80% of the dye, the remainder is flushed out into our waterways.  It is estimated the global textile industry discharges 40-50,000 tons of dye in the water system each year.  This dye is toxic and affects the plants, drinking water, aquifers, but also coats the surface algae inhibiting their photosynthetic activity which has a domino effect through the whole food chain.

From a human perspective, textile factories are commonly located in developing nations with little health and safety regulations or enforcement, so people are working in highly toxic environments where the dyes are easily absorbed through the skin, exacerbated by the often hot and humid climates of the factories that cause the workers’ pores to open up for perspiration making it easier for the chemicals to get absorbed.  The danger of dyes can range from skin irritation and allergic reations, to respiratory problems, to carcinogenic tumors.  But it doesn’t end there, because the dyes can be absorbed by the end user as well.

Impact of dyes – Trusted Clothes

During the coloration process, a large percentage of the dye does not bind to the fabric and is lost to the wastewater stream. Approximately 10-15% dyes are released into the environment during dyeing process making the effluent highly colored and aesthetically unpleasant. Public perception of water quality is greatly influenced by the colour.

More reading  Ethical Fashion Forum

Sustainable Solution: Natural Dyes

There is progress being made in the industry.  Some manufacturers have started using an AirDye process that eliminates the gallons of water used.  It works by heating the dye until it turns into a vapor that then adheres to the fabric.  While this is a positive step, the dyes are still often toxic and the process works best with synthetic textiles.


Read the labels to see if there are any certifications.  There are organizations that set standards for the entire value-chain:

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

OneCert provides organic certification worldwide

Cradle to Cradle (www.c2ccertified.com) : primarily it certifies that the product uses environmentally safe and healthy materials.

This guide has detailed explanations for what a lot of the certifications are really certifying.

All ecolabels on textiles | Ecolabel Index

All ecolabels on textiles in Ecolabel Index, the independent global directory of ecolabels and environmental certification schemes.

For your DIYers, Make Your Own Dyes Naturally

Have you ever thought about dying your own clothes?  Maybe you get images of  making tie-dyed t-shirts in arts class at summer camp.  But actually is a fine art and a great DIY project.  This is a good place to get you started.  You can’t get more NaturaLiving than this!

How To Start Dying Your Own Clothes With Plants-And Why You Should

What if you could wear clothes to match the colors of your garden? Rebecca Burgess says you can: by using natural dyes and fabrics. Burgess, author of Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes and executive director of California-based nonprofit Fibershed, advocates for natural, regional, and regenerative approaches to clothing.

Guides to Creating Natural Dyes

A great guide which plants to use for colors and how to dye clothing at DIY Natural.

Natural Dyes – All Natural Ways To Dye Fabric

It’s January. Cold, windy, snowy and just plain miserable in many parts of the country. During the winter break from school, when I’m cooped up in the house for days on end, I like to have projects to work on. I’m a soap maker primarily, but even that gets to be old hat after a while.

Pioneer Thinking has a detailed guide for natural colors if you want to go deeper into creating your color palate.

Making Natural Dyes from Plants

Did you know that a great source for natural dyes can be found right in your own back yard! Roots, nuts and flowers are just a few common natural ways to get many colors. Yellow, orange, blue, red, green, brown and grey are available. Go ahead, experiment!

Natural Fabrics

Here’s a great guide to natural and earth-friendly fabrics

A Guide to Natural and Eco-Friendly Fabrics | Fashion & Gear | Green Living

Decades ago, clothes were built to last and styles were timeless. These days, fabrics are cheap, fads are passing, and the realities of our disposable wardrobes are stark. But clothing made with self-proclaimed sustainable or eco-friendly fabrics are not the only aspect of making a green garment, despite clearly being an important component of evolving your wardrobe.

A starter guide to making your own textiles

How It’s Made: Gorgeous Eco Yarns

Green, 29, owns A Little Weather, a handwoven-goods shop situated in a barn in Madison County, North Carolina, and everything about the place is an extension of her desire to fully occupy the field of artisan weaving, from raising and feeding the sheep that provide much of her wool to spinning the finished product on her looms. “When I’m in the studio,” she says, “I’m kind of a monomaniac.”


For learning more about making natural dyes and to find a workshop near you, please visit:

To find natural Fabric producers in your area (US):


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