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How Green Are Your Jeans?

Jun 19, 12 How Green Are Your Jeans?

Jeans are the personification of Americana — they are durable, hard working, no frills, and always in style. From Obama’s ‘Dad Jeans’ to the skinny jeans worn by Brooklyn hipsters — denim is, pardon the pun, weaved into the fabric of the U.S.A.

Unfortunately, the process used to make them can also be characterized by a word also associated with Americans — wasteful.

Making one pair of jeans is estimated to use more than 2,500 gallons of water, nearly a pound of chemicals and vast amounts of energy. With two billion pairs of jeans produced worldwide each year – it’s fair to say the denim industry heavily contributes wastewater and greenhouse gases to the environment.

A new process described at the 16th annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference today could mark the end of the massive environmental footprint made by the denim industry.

The process, called Advanced Denim, can produce a pair of jeans using up to 92 percent less water and up to 30 percent less energy than conventional methods. In addition, the Advanced Denim platform generates up to 87 percent less cotton waste and “virtually zero” wastewater, according to Clariant.

Unlike conventional denim production methods, which require an array of potentially harmful chemicals, Advanced Denim uses just one vat and a new generation of ecologically friendly sulfur dyes that require only a single, sugar-based reducing agent. All other production steps are eliminated, according to Miguel Sanchez, a textile engineer at Clariant, the Swiss chemical company that developed Advanced Denim.

“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, a sponsor of the conference.

Modifications at the plant level would involve little or no investment on the part of the manufacturer, depending on which process is being used, Sanchez told redOrbit via phone interview.

He said one process, which involves dying denim ‘ropes’ before sizing them, would require a small investment whereas processes that dye and size at the same time would need almost no changes at all because “the machines are set up perfect to run this (new) process.”

In addition, Sanchez said the handling and safety surrounding the Advanced Denim chemicals should not be a concern. He added that these chemicals are safer than the conventional denim production chemicals currently in use, such as the chemical reducing agent sodium hydrosulfite.

“In our case, we a using as a reducing agent: glucose and dextrose, which is very safe, 100 percent biodegradable and isn’t posing a risk for anything. All of this is absolutely critical– to promote a range of chemicals that are 100 percent safe and don’t cause any trouble through their use,” he said.

For those concerned about how the new jeans might look and feel, no need to worry said Sanchez. Advanced Denim apparel “that you will buy in the shop” will be more durable and the technology will actually expand the possibilities of jean makers.

“We can go for looks and effects that are not possible today with the current technologies,” he said.

Image Caption: Using green chemistry techniques, a Swiss-based company has developed a way to produce denim jeans using 92 percent less water and nearly 30 percent less energy than conventional means. Photo courtesy of Clariant

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About 

Brett Smith is a freelance journalist from Buffalo, NY. When not writing about science, medicine or other newsworthy topics, he enjoys Upstate New York by camping and hiking in the summers and snowboarding in the winters. Like most Buffalonians, he eats chicken wings year round.

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