The concern about environmental pollution and their effects has sparked a lot of debate and heat in many a recent conference at the global level. Initiatives on eco-friendly substances, ban on certain harmful poisonous substances resulting from industrial production and released as waste, and other ecology-threatening issues are raised, debated and followed up with policies aimed at 'cleaning-up' the environment.
In India, the textile industry with its processes of dyeing and printing involves a lot of chemicals or colours being used and the residue drained into nearby ponds, streams or even rivers. This automatically poses a health and environment hazard to humans and marine life making use of these water sources for various purposes.
Since the water pollutant is the chemical colour or dye, alternatives have to be found and substituted.
The solution already exists for the change to be initiated, with the increased use of vegetable dyes that neither contaminate nor pollute the environment.
Vegetable dyes are made from the processing of vegetables and their skins while natural dyes include vegetable dyes and also dyes are made from many other substances from nature.
Vegetables like beetroot, tomato, carrot, onion, some leafy vegetables and fruits like pomegranate, grapes, guava, are examples of the vast and abundant sources for vegetable dyes available in nature.
Turmeric, acacia, red sandalwood, henna, madder, lac dye, are well-known examples of materials other than fruits and vegetables for natural dyes.
The advantages in the use of natural dyes or eco-friendly dyes over chemical dyes in textiles are many, but the more important ones are: Eco-friendly dyes are easy on the skin and do not irritate or affect it, while chemical dyes do have a mild to noticeable effect.
Eco-friendly dyes are fast colors and do not run despite several washes over the years. Artificial dyes have a tendency of spreading in the next or after a few washes. Fading, dullness or change of colour in a short period after repeated washes, is a foregone conclusion for chemical dyed apparel.
The raw materials for eco-friendly dyes are directly available from nature. Chemicals for chemical dyes have to be specially prepared from a combination of different substances, through special laboratory methods or large scale industrial processes. Wastes from the use of vegetable or eco-friendly dyes are neither harmful to human life nor do they pollute. Whereas it harms human life and pollutes when chemical dyes are used.
The advocacy for natural dyes has been since long, and policies for their use have been made and enforced in developed nations, like the US and most countries in Europe. The same cannot be said for India and many other smaller countries where the textile industry contributes significantly to the GDP.
Major hitches that have been encountered in the widespread use of natural dyes are their high cost of extraction and processing, limited technical inputs and capability for cheap extraction, very few shades and limited blends available from a colour.
- The cost of natural or organic dyes is relatively high compared to that of chemical dyes,
- There is limited know how about extraction methods and the process is costly.
- The colour yield is quite low from raw material sources for natural dyes. The quantity required for a project would involve too much more in comparison to the quantity of chemical dyes available for the same. Hence costs could be put as 20 to 30 % higher.
- Getting most shades within a colour and blending of colours from natural dyes is very much limited in comparison.
But in the recent couple of years, there has been a marked change and interest. The market has become increasingly aware regarding environmental issues and there is an increasing demand for the use of natural dyes, especially for apparel, textile cloth for furnishings and other items of household use. The ban on certain class of azo-dyes, in the light of possible hazards and the use of vegetable dyes being actively canvassed and given whole-hearted support for, by various research institutions, NGOs, public figures and environmental activists, has helped the cause.
The opening up of exports of natural dyes to developed countries, the growing of raw materials for the making of natural dyes becoming a new avenue for rural entrepreneurship and a means to livelihood and increasing voices in international meets to address environmental issues rigorously, have largely helped in the re-birth and renewed growth of Natural dyes, especially since with the advent of chemical dyes with their advantages of being cheaper and easily available, the existence of the eco-friendly or Natural Dyes was threatened some time.