Sustainable Dyeing

Plant-based dyes are getting popular due to global concerns about sustainability

The textile industry consumes a lot of water, with up to 200 tonnes used per tonne of fabric. The inefficiency in the dyeing process results in a considerable amount of synthetic dyes being wasted every year, with up to 200,000 tons being lost to effluents and eventually polluting waterways.

This is a significant problem in China, as reported in the documentary RiverBlue (, where over 70% of rivers are polluted due to pollutants from textile and garment factories. These highly stable dyes often escape conventional wastewater treatment processes, persisting in the environment due to their high stability to light, temperature, water, detergents, chemicals, soap and other parameters such as bleach and perspiration.

Wastewater treatment plants in textile industries face the challenge of removing the color from these compounds, especially since dyes and pigments are specifically designed to resist biodegradation, causing them to persist in the environment for extended periods. For example, the hydrolyzed dye Reactive Blue 19 has a half-life of roughly 46 years at 25°C and pH 7, further highlighting its resistance to degradation.

Azo dyes are the largest group of colourants in number and production volume, making up around 60-70% of all organic dyes produced globally. Their popularity can be attributed to their ease and low cost of synthesis compared to natural dyes. The production of azo dyes that create 22 highly lethal amines has been banned by many countries, including Germany, the USA, the EU, and the UK, due to their hazardous effects.

Due to growing environmental concerns, people involved in trade and consumption are increasingly opting for eco-friendly products. Producing, supplying, and using these products should be carefully examined, with a special emphasis on reducing waste and environmental damage. To address these concerns, manufacturers are developing sustainable dyes that are cost-effective, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly.

Many people believe that sustainable solutions come with a premium price tag. However, this is not always the case. When considering plant-based textile dyes, raw materials, processing, and equipment costs can be substantial, resulting in higher prices for end-users. Adopting plant-based dyes has been limited due to higher production costs than synthetic dyes.

Lower production costs can be achieved through circularity and reduced operating expenses. Based on these two principles, certain producers are leading the charge towards economical and environmentally friendly natural dyes.

Archroma’s EarthColors® technology

Archroma’s EarthColors® technologys use of up-cycled waste from other industries contributes to a circular economy. They use raw materials derived from natural waste, which has no adverse effects on other stages of the dye manufacturing process, such as water and energy usage or waste generation. During the production of EarthColors®, all of the natural raw material is transformed into a new dyestuff, ensuring full waste management.

Figure 1: Archroma’s Circularity model to reduce the cost of natural dyes

These sustainable natural dyes are known to have a reduced negative impact on water resources and aid in protecting human health, natural resources, and climate change, compared to traditional synthetic dyes. Currently, EarthColors® can be used for cellulosic fibers like cotton, viscose, linen, bamboo, and kapok.

EarthColors®Manufactured using
Diresul® Earth-Oak100% of ALMOND SHELLS from the food industry
Diresul® Earth-Cotton100% of COTTON PLANT residues from the cotton industry
Diresul® Earth-Sand90% of BITTER ORANGE residues from the herbal industry
Diresul® Earth-Clay90% of BEET residues from the food industry
Diresul® Earth-Forest90% of SAW PALMETTO residues from the herbal industry
Diresul® Earth-Stone70% of SAW PALMETTO residues from the herbal industry
Table 1: Archroma’s EarthColors® Dyes and their sources

Colorkim’s MERDAN® dyes

At the ITMA 2023 event, Colorkim showcased their unprecedented MERDAN® natural dyes. Thanks to their incredible compatibility, these dyes are a sustainable solution that works perfectly on natural and synthetic fibers. Circularity is being taken to the next level by using organic production waste of MERDAN® dyes as an alternative source of animal nutrition instead of letting it go to waste. This innovative approach to sustainability has garnered the attention of many industry experts, leading to the company being chosen as one of just three focused on the dyeing and finishing sector in the Start-Up Valley at ITMA 2023.

Figure 2: Benefits of MERDAN® dyes

Colorkim’s MERDAN® dyes are not only sustainable but also increase productivity! Founder Yuksel Baris notes that Merdan dyes are 50% faster than conventional cotton dyeing methods and reduce energy consumption by 70%. Although this sustainable dye may cost more than synthetic dyes, opting for options with lower running costs can result in significant long-term savings. This becomes particularly relevant in light of the rising energy prices the textile industry faces. Reducing energy consumption through sustainable processes can overcome the higher short-term costs of sustainable alternatives, leading to substantial long-term cost savings. For ColorKim to grow, they must change industry perceptions and thought processes and ensure their dyes perform better than conventional solutions. Baris believes increasing demand for Merdan textile dyes depends not solely on cost-effectiveness, so he has chosen not to reveal their price.

Sustainability is a critical issue facing the textile industry, and CEMATEX, the show owners of ITMA, believes that innovation is critical to addressing this challenge. The Start-Up Valley is an initiative designed to feature some of the most forward-thinking enterprises in the textile industry, providing a platform for innovative solutions that facilitate a greener, cleaner textile industry.

Figure 3: Yuksel Baris at the COLORKIM stall in Start-Up Valley, ITMA 2023

ColorKim’s MERDAN natural textile dyes align with the theme of the Start-Up Valley. They use natural resources, limit energy consumption, and promote ecosystem biodiversity. In addition, they have social, human, and economic benefits such as being cheaper to use, promoting social responsibility, and improving public perception of eco-friendly initiatives.

There are different classifications to the Start-Up Valley, but one of the most popular is sustainability. We developed Merdan dyes to create a textile dyeing and finish industry that supports the environment rather than taking from it. We were awarded a place having been chosen by a committee of organisers

Yuksel Baris , Owner, Colorkim Kimya San.Ltd

Some believe that sustainable development sacrifices quality to prioritize environmental concerns. However, both new sustainable and non-sustainable innovations can experience hurdles at the initial stage. The key challenge is obtaining funding for research and development to address any setbacks that may arise. This need for funding has been observed in the digital textile printing industry, which is currently experiencing a growing demand for pigment inks.

The demand for Merdan textile dyes is highest in Europe, where strict regulations promote sustainable manufacturing practices. In contrast, regulations in Asia tend to prioritize economic growth over sustainability. ColorKim aims to cater to both regions but needs to focus on performance and price to increase demand in Asia.

Consumers also have the power to drive industry practices towards sustainability. The availability of innovative products like Merdan textile dyes is a positive step towards this transition, and experts believe that greater consumer transparency can further accelerate the shift towards sustainability.

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