Swiss Chemical Process Makes Sustainable ‘Green Jeans’

By Chelsea Whyte on June 20, 2012 9:21 PM EDT

jeans
Your blue jeans could go 'green' with a new chemical process developed to limit wastwater and harmful chemicals. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The cost of a pair of jeans may not be that much money, but the price paid in natural resources and harm to the environment is steep. Some estimates suggest that producing just one pair of dungarees requires more than 2,500 gallons of water, nearly a pound of chemicals, and enormous amounts of energy.  And with 2 billion pairs produced worldwide, the amount of wastewater and greenhouse gases generated leaves a mark on the environment.


But a new chemical process presented at the 16th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference could make the production of blue jeans a lot greener.

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The process, called Advanced Denim, uses only one dyeing vat with concentrated, liquid sulfur dyes that require only a single, sugar-based reducing agent - as opposed to the 15 vats holding a host of chemicals employed in traditional denim processing - and can produce a pair of jeans using up to 92 percent less water and up to 30 percent less energy than conventional denim manufacturing methods, according to Miguel Sanchez, a textile engineer at Clariant, the Swiss company that developed Advanced Denim.

In addition, it generates up to 87 percent less cotton waste (which is often burned, adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere) and virtually no wastewater.

The process, if used on a wide scale, could save 2.5 billion gallons of water per year, prevent the release of 8.3 million cubic meters of wastewater and save up to 220 million kilowatt hours of electricity, Sanchez added, according to Agence France-Presse.

"This is another great example of the kind of positive impact adopting green chemistry offers businesses: Major savings in key materials, energy, water usage, waste and emission reductions, and ensuring your right to operate in communities around the world," said Bob Peoples, director of the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute.

Distressed jeans have come under fire in recent years for wasting water, overusing harmful chemicals, and using sandblasting that can endanger worker's health, reports The Express Tribune, and many other companies, including denim-giant Levi-Strauss, already make their own versions of eco-friendly jeans that use less water, are made with organic cotton, or use natural dyes, though these products remain a niche market.   

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