New Approach of Synthetic Fibers Industry
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared the year 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres. The objectives are to bring attention to and stimulate demand for natural fibers to foster international partnership among natural fiber industries, encouraging governments to respond appropriately to problems faced by natural fiber industries and promoting the sustainability of these industries.
This is an attempt to revive the natural fibers industry which has lost a lot of its market share due to the increased use of synthetic fibers. An analysis, therefore, is necessary to understand why a whole year dedicated to natural fibers had become essential, why synthetic fibers are not considered as an option for sustainable development, what are the trends of synthetic fibers and what all is being done by the man-made fibers industry to contribute to world's sustainability and for reducing its carbon footprints?
Growth and Challenges of Synthetic Fibers Industry
Synthetic fibers Synthetic fibers are becoming more and more important with the days going by. Over the last few years, the manufacturing ratio of natural to synthetic fibers has come to be 35% to 65%. This growth can be attributed to a number of causes- relatively low prices, easy manageability of artificial fabrics, technologically competent products and processes, growing demand of technical textiles and the like. Of these, the low price factor, somehow, is valid no more due to the rising costs of energy, transportation and raw materials. The era of comparatively inexpensive natural resources is over and this condition is likely to remain for many years as the production of raw materials is a capital intensive and time consuming process. A good example is that of petroleum-based raw materials, so essential for much-in-demand fibers like polyester fiber This problem of shortage can't be solved in a short period of time.
Another important challenge before the synthetic fibers sector is that of rising awareness about the environmental degradation and growing demand for eco friendly products. Already there is demand from consumers for eco-labels that provide information on how many grams of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gas emissions arose in production, transport and storage of a given product. An impressive large number of people are even ready to pay more for sustainably produced products. However, the challenge before the industry is to make available eco-products at competitive prices so as to remain in an advantageous position.
New Attitude of Synthetic Fibers Industry
With the growing understanding about the challenges before synthetic fibers industry, it is all set to change its attitude for good. The 47th Dornbirn Man-Made Fibers Congress, which took place in Austria in September 2008 had sustainability as its central topic, with the focus on cradle-to-grave products. the industry is worried about climate change as was reflected in many papers presented at the congress because of the simple fact that climate change directly and personally affects each and every person on the earth.
Efforts for Sustainable Development by the Industry
Sustainability is one of the key issues in the manufacturing of fibers and fabrics. The most important parameters for the textile manufacturers, and suppliers in the future will be in the fields of fibers, yarnsand fabric production; dyeing, printing and finishing; making of textile end product; transportation; product use and maintenance; and recycling, incineration or disposal.
With the changing climate and growing consumer awareness, the efforts of sustainable development have already begun. The legislation for “the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances” (REACH) has come into effect in the European Union. It will influence all the produced and imported chemicals in the European Union (EU). The law is being studied by other parts of the world and other countries are expected to follow suit.
The debate about climate change has made all big companies to reconsider their policies. The term "carbon footprint", which could not be explained by anyone a few years ago, has come to be in central focus. Companies have understood their competitive disadvantage if they refuse to accept the issue of sustainable development. They are now ready to prudently and sustainably use natural resources. This has led to growing use of more renewable raw materials. One of its example is cellulosic fibers. Wood from trees is the fundamental raw material required for about 90% of regenerated cellulosic production. Moreover, trees have a very low negative impact on environment and the fertility of the soil and one can not tap the full global potential for wood production. Cellulose, one of the most widely used natural polymers, are easiest to process, specially in an ecologically sensitive manner with the help of available technologies. It is all the more expected that some years from now, cellulose required for the fiber industry will not only be obtained from wood, but also from quickly growing plants like sugar cane, grass and straw. New fiber qualities and specific applications will be developed by mixing different raw materials. Some companies are already using polymers recycled from post-consumer waste, such as polyethylene terephthalate bottles. The morale is that, those companies who will implement innovative measures at an early stage will have a competitive edge over others.
One positive change that has occurred in recent years is that many of the retailers have become transparent with their products and their manufacturing processes information that are made available to the consumers. Consumers too, have more choices available now.
One thing is clear from the above analysis that although man made fibers had been contributing to the environmental pollution in the past, it is an important part of textile industry that can't be done away with. However, with the consciousness about sustainable development, the synthetic fibers industry has come to accept its responsibility and is taking steps for sustainable growth. It will remain important, as the natural fibers are, for fulfilling the demands especially, of technical textiles and nonwovens as also for managing demands for large global population which is estimated to be about 9 billion by 2050.