A new report from Greenpeace on how clothing manufacturing facilities are filling wastewater systems in China with harmful chemicals is the latest effort to highlight the clothing industry's poor environmental track record.
"Of all the factories we have been to over the past few years, we have never before seen such large-scale pollution," says Yifang Li, senior toxics campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. "The samples of wastewater taken on site have proven to be some of the most toxic testing results we have seen."
The pollution is coming from textile manufacturing plants in China that are part of the supply chain for Levi's, GAP and Calvin Klein, among many others in the clothing industry.
Greenpeace International's investigation reveals dumping of industrial wastewater with a wide range of hazardous substances in two of China's most important textile manufacturing zones.
Its report titled Toxic Threads: Putting Pollution on Parade details how facilities are exploiting complex wastewater systems to hide scrutiny of their manufacturing processes.
Water samples from the two largest communal wastewater treatment plants show that processed effluent contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals -- at least some of which are persistent and bio-accumulative. People that live there are so concerned about their health that they rely on the local government to deliver drinking water, according to the report.
"Many international brands, such as Levi's, source their products from facilities within such industrial zones, yet identifying whether individual suppliers are responsible for releasing hazardous substances in their effluent is almost impossible," says Li. "This provides a convenient smokescreen for unacceptable environmental practices at individual facilities, including the use and discharge of hazardous chemicals by the global textile industry."
Hazardous chemicals remain on conventional textiles even after being sold at the retail level. Chemical residues enter water systems when textiles are washed.
"Along with setting short-term timelines to eliminate the worst hazardous chemicals, brands must require their suppliers to publicly disclose releases of these chemicals," says Martin Hojsik, Greenpeace International Detox Campaign Coordinator. "Both are key steps to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020 and Greenpeace will continue to expose brands that do not take responsibility for every stage of their supply chain."
Next page: Global fashion industry responds