How Big Is Textile Printing’s Environmental Impact?

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According to Laurel Brunner, writing for the Verdigris Project, clothing will become an increasingly important concern as digital printing technologies start nibbling away at the traditional textile printing space.

With apologies to Jane Austen, it’s a fact universally acknowledged that a single individual in possession of a well padded credit card must be in want of stuff. Especially now in the crippling times of Covid-19 that stuff is often printed books and magazines, and this is a very good thing. As well as entertaining us, printed media are environmentally sustainable because they can be recycled into new raw materials. Books, magazines and other forms of print can also be produced on-demand, avoiding waste in the first place.

But when that stuff is clothing, the story is not quite so simple, or so positive when it comes to environmental aspects and impacts. Fans of on-demand fashion believe that on-demand clothing printed and produced in line with the buyer’s preferences is more sustainable. However, whether it is or it isn’t, it still encourages people to buy more clothing than they really need. This is the problem because the recyclability of textiles is relatively underdeveloped, compared to that of printed matter.

The textile industry’s production processes cause all manner of negative environmental impacts, from turning raw materials into fabric and printing them, through to processing all those second hand clothes via global charities and other channels. The root cause of the problem is one of excess, which caters to appetites for new stuff, especially new clothes and especially in developed economies. It’s very much a first world problem, but this particular problem has a profound and complex impact elsewhere in the world, especially on less advanced economies. For instance, exporting second hand clothing to other countries involves lots of emissions associated with transport. And it can undermine the development of domestic clothing industries.

These are just a couple of the considerations to wrestle with. But the more serious problem is the inherent conflict between developing commercially viable fashion and clothing industries, and the need to encourage restraint within target markets so that we produce less waste and fewer emissions. The fashion industry is not the only villain in this scenario. And recently we have seen signs of change in the traditional habits of high end fashion.

Gucci for instance is scrapping the rota of traditional runway shows in favour of two annual events. They are probably doing this for economic reasons, but at least they recognise that things can change. The very idea of seasonal clothing, which encourages the idea that clothes should be discarded because they are no longer in fashion, has become dissonant.

Clothing’s lifespan should not be determined by its look and design. The rise in online clothing exchanges is similarly encouraging, but within the graphics industry we need to be thinking very carefully about business models using digital printing to supplant the traditional textile industry. Getting people to change their behaviour won’t be easy: it takes awareness and sustainable expectations and that takes time. We have a unique opportunity to jumpstart the model into something less shortsighted and more sustainable.

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. Verdigris is supported by: Agfa Graphics (www.Agfa.com), Digital Dots (www.digitaldots.org), EFI (www.efi.com), FESPA (www.fespa.com), Fujifilm (www.fujifilm.com/sustainability/), HP (www.hp.com), Kodak (www.Kodak.com/go/sustainability), Practical Publishing (www.practicalpublishing.co.za), Ricoh (www.ricoh.com), Unity Publishing (http://unity-publishing.co.uk) and Xeikon (www.xeikon.com).

To submit your news please, contact journo@practicalpublishing.co.za

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THE VERDIGRIS PROJECT http://verdigrisproject.com/

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