India's answer to EU's carbon tax: Green textiles

Textile manufacturing is a water-intensive sector, consuming roughly 1.6 million litres of water in India to produce 8,000 kg/day of fabric. (Bloomberg News)
Textile manufacturing is a water-intensive sector, consuming roughly 1.6 million litres of water in India to produce 8,000 kg/day of fabric. (Bloomberg News)

Summary

  • Aim is to reduce carbon footprint and water consumption in the textile industry

New Delhi: The textile industry is moving to shed its polluter tag by adopting a ‘circular economy’ in order to avoid being snared by future climate change tax regimes such as the European Union’s proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), two persons aware of the plans said.

CBAM will tax the ‘embedded carbon’ in imports from select emission-intensive sectors—steel, aluminium, cement, hydrogen, electricity and fertilizers. It is expected to be implemented in 2026.

Although textiles isn’t mentioned by CBAM, promoting a circular economy in the sector, one of the biggest polluters, will be a key topic of proposed consultations, one of the persons cited above said.

A circular economy approach refers to a mechanism to extend the life of products through reuse and repair and to keep end-of-life material in the economy through recycling.

In the textile industry, much of this is about limiting water use. Textile manufacturing is a water-intensive sector, consuming roughly 1.6 million litres of water in India to produce 8,000 kg/day of fabric. Globally, 4% of all freshwater is used up in making textile products.

The government is also making efforts to promote sustainable textile manufacturing practices at the upcoming BharatTex show from 26 February. Global exhibitors will showcase their initiatives to minimize textile waste, from ‘upcycling’ scraps into new products to implementing a closed-loop manufacturing process, this person said.

“Textile production has increased manifold in the last few decades, and due to cost-efficiency and durability, the production of synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon has increased significantly. In the present set-up, most textile products are made, used and disposed of—resulting in environmental losses," the second person said. The demand for circularity in textiles comes from both the government and corporate groups seeking to address climate change, save natural resources, and reduce carbon emissions without disrupting the supply chain, the second person said. Apparel production has doubled, but the number of times a garment is worn before being discarded has come down by 36% in the past 15 years. The production of synthetic fibres, mainly made from crude oil, has grown from less than 20% of global fibre production in 2018 to 62% now, as stated in a report prepared by the Centre for Environment Education.

Welcoming the move, Nishant Malhotra, founder of WeaverStory, a handloom promotion firm, said, “The textile industry stands as one of the biggest contributors to water pollution, and the circular economy model presents a remarkable opportunity to transform and revolutionize the way we design, produce, and consume textiles."

India is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of textiles and apparel. The domestic industry contributes 2.3% to the GDP, 13% to industrial production, and 12% to exports.

India’s exports of worn clothing and rags in 2022-23 amounted to $134.7 million, while imports were $381.71 million.

To be sure, India has also made it clear that it will not initiate discussions on non-trade issues such as labour and environmental standards at the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), set to start on 26 February in Abu Dhabi.

Queries mailed to the textile ministry spokesperson and the textile secretary remained unanswered.India’s total export value in textiles reached $24.70 billion in the first nine months of the fiscal year 2023.

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