The enhanced focus on textile effluents and waste water treatment under the ambit of ZDHC has already begun shaping the manner in which the textiles supply chain and industry is operating. All the other documentation and compliances notwithstanding, the key focus from an input raw materials viewpoint has centred around colorants (dyes, pigments and intermediates) and the specialty chemicals and auxiliaries. These are hitherto believed to be the main source of contaminants and pollutants in the effluent stream.
Inspite of the strictest control measures and analysis, many of the hazardous substances intended to be eliminated from the effluent stream continue to find their way into it. The reasons for this, as also the repercussions of the same, could be quite pronounced for the industry. New studies have shown that the focussed raw materials mentioned above are not the main source of contaminants. On the contrary, a host of commodity chemicals, which were not on the radar of our industry for screening, are found to contribute about 90% of the chemicals in the effluent stream. Examples of these are salts, soda ash, organic and inorganic acids, peroxide and caustic soda which are consumed in significant quantities during textile processing, and are often contaminated with APEOs, phthalates, chlorobenzene, toluene and other restricted chemicals
The challenge that emerges from this new finding is multi-pronged and more serious than we can imagine. Firstly, the impurity profiles and the implications of these are not as well documented as is with the specialty chemicals and colorants. Secondly, these are commodities where a lack of standardisation across suppliers and even production batches renders inherent variations in quality. They are often by-products of other chemical manufacturing processes. Thirdly, these are also often sold not directly by organised producers, but often by small-scale units and moreso by dealers in the open chemical market, which makes both the supply chain traceability and the quality control extremely difficult. Further, the price-sensitive nature with almost no differentiation and value-addition in these products means that these are linked solely to competitive pricing, where quality is invariably the victim. The proportion of these in terms of the utilisation to outflow in the effluent stream is also extremely high. The fact that these commodities were not even on the radar of the various agencies and authorities that had taken the lead in this initiative highlights how we failed to take cognizance and pre-emptive action in this matter.
These findings would call for a significant course correction on the part of our industry as we go about our task of ensuring reduced effluent contaminants. The challenges above, though real, at least give us a sense of clarity and direction in terms of identifying the problem (the old adage of the known devil being better than the unknown friend), and possibly the missing link in mapping the source of the hazardous contaminants in textile effluent streams. The industry must brace itself for a tighter supply chain, adoption of new tests and tools, and most importantly an added cost implication on this account. As has often been stated in the past, these costs must not be viewed as discretionary or as a burden. On the contrary, we have enjoyed an extended runway in terms of non-compliances, and it is high time we compensated for the same, before it is indeed too late. This is just the start, and definitely not the last we have heard of this matter.