Toxic trails of death – what synthetic dyes do to our environment


When Leonardo da Vinci drew his first sketches of flying machines, it's not a huge surprise where he got his inspiration: by observing the birds. 500 years later the term biomimicry was coined for what man has always done: solved problems by studying nature.

Looking at the state of our planet today, however, we have clearly been bad students. Especially when it comes to what we wear and dress our beds in. The textile industry produces over a million tons of synthetic dyes a year. The colorants used contain heavy metals (cadmium and chromate to name but a few) that have severe effects on the environment (and on our health, as discussed in our previous article). Wastewater from textile plants is classified as the most polluting of all industrial sectors, especially as synthetic dyes often resist biodegradation.

One of the main problems is that there are several loopholes in regulations that many textile companies are fast to exploit. Fabrics are often taken from a mill, dyed at a different facility owned by the same parent company and then sewn at yet another place. This complex supply chain makes it difficult for Greenpeace and other organizations to monitor the companies and the toxic traces they leave behind.

"Dilution is the solution to pollution," ironizes Dr. Sudeep Motupalli Rao, founder of California-based SlowTech Labs, adding: "There's no real transparency in the supply chain. We don't have a material passport. We don't know where a material has been." Rao started his career in specialty chemicals for the mining and heavy industries, then later as a Greenpeace scientist. He is an advocate of cradle-to-cradle design (as opposed to cradle-to-grave), aiming to make all textiles fully recyclable or biodegradable in a healthy circular economy. He is also a keen student of biomimicry. "If you can learn from nature’s billions of years of evolutionary R&D, why not apply it to solve the challenges facing humanity?"

For Aizome Bedding, making our bed linen environmentally friendly and fully biodegradable was a given. In addition to using natural indigo and organic cotton, our production produces no waste and uses 200 times less water than synthetically-dyed textiles. The water we do use is later applied as fertilizer. As the textile industry is the second largest polluter of clean water after agriculture, it's our responsibility to follow the lead of people like Rao in creating a "road map to zero".

To pave the way, creating awareness is key. "99% of people have no clue that the textiles they buy are synthetically dyed, and especially what that means to the environment," says Rao. "Natural dyes are not just aesthetically beautiful, they are also life-supporting," he continues. "Do you want to leave a toxic legacy of death, or blaze a trail of health and beauty?"

I think it's safe to assume what da Vinci would have answered.

Aizome Bedding's crowdfunding campaign is now live on Indiegogo, where you can pre-order our bed linen. Click here