These days, cleaning up the denim supply chain focuses mainly on water and energy use. However, that misses a big part of denim jeans' environmental footprint. A lot of chemicals go into making a pair of jeans.
At every step of the production chain, chemicals are inserted to facilitate some sort of process. Synthetic petro-chemicals are added in the spinning process to make the cotton stretchier. The dye bath, which is one of the most chemical intensive steps, contains all sorts of dye fixatives, oxidizing agents, reducing agents, and enzymes to bind the synthetic dye to the cotton. To get the yarns stiff enough to run through the loom, the material is sized with PVA, resins, and waxes. After the fabric is woven, the desizing process uses acids and enzymes to dissolve those chemicals that are coating the yarns, which are washed out into the wastewater stream. And in the final step, heavy bleaches and lightening agents are used to create fades and finishes, to give that "worn in" look.
These chemicals help give denim jeans the look and feel that the customer wants, and often can help reduce the amount of water and energy needed to dye and process the cotton. At the same time, these chemicals are harmful to the workers who grind it and breathe it, and when not treated properly, will pollute and change the pH of water systems in the surrounding community. Furthermore, there have been few studies conducted to affirm the safety of chemicals on this material after prolonged contact with the wearer's skin.
In the graphic, customers can now put a name to some of the chemicals used in the making of their jeans. Some of these chemicals have been vetted by by standardization organizations as safe, if treated properly. Others are more dangerous in high volumes. At SOURCE Denim, we are working with environmental organizations like Greenpeace to detox the production process of our denim, and work towards the international goal of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals.
Coming up next week...how SOURCE Denim's chemical profile is different than conventional jeans!