Textile-dyeing is the world's most-polluting industries among all. Fashion industry is responsible for up to one-fifth of water pollution which leads weak regulation and enforcement in producer countries like Bangladesh.
China and other Asian countries releases trillions liters of chemically tainted wastewater. Bangladesh is the world's second biggest garment manufacturing hub after China where wastewater is commonly dumped directly into rivers and streams.
Helen Regan, a writer of CNN wrote a report describing how fashion hunger is killing the rivers in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Bangladesh's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said it was "striving towards minimizing the negative effect on environment from the largest export generating sectors including ready-made garments and textiles," reported CNN.
Minister Shahab Uddin said in a statement e-mailed to CNN that a range of measures were being taken to decrease the pollution, including updating environmental laws, imposing fines on polluters, monitoring water quality, setting up centralized treatment plants, and working with international development partners to improve wastewater treatment.
Cost of color
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry uses around 93 billion cubic meters (21 trillion gallons) of water annually, enough to fill 37 million Olympic swimming pools.
Producing a single pair of jeans consumes around 7,500 liters (2,000 gallons) of water, from growing raw cotton to finished product, according to the United Nations.
To ensure the blue color, the thread or fabric is repeatedly dunked in huge vats of synthetic indigo dye. After dyeing, the denim is treated and washed with more chemicals to soften or texture it. Getting the faded or "worn in" look requires even more chemical bathing, which uses acids, enzymes, bleach and formaldehyde. But jeans aren't the only polluters.
Chemical-laden water is also used to irrigate crops, with one recent study finding that textile dyes were present in vegetables and fruit grown around Savar.
Once in the wastewater, dyeing chemicals are difficult to remove, said Sarah Obser, head of sustainability at PFI Hong Kong, a company that provides environmental and factory audits in Asia. "The substances don't degrade so they remain in the environment."
Workers and people living close to factories often bear the brunt of the pollution. According to Ma, fishermen living near dye houses and textile mills along the tributaries of the Qiantang River have seen their catches shrink. "They have lost their livelihoods because of it," he added.
In Bangladesh, the Savar resident who did not want to be named said he doesn't go into the water around his neighborhood anymore.
"This water causes sores on the body," he said, adding that people washing their hands or faces in the water have experienced fevers and skin irritation.
Shift in attitudes
Ma said factories and dye houses are increasingly being moved into industrial zones with centralized wastewater treatment plants, or being threatened with fines and closure if they don't comply with regulations.
A recent study found that such efforts have improved water quality in some regions but toxic and polluted water still persists in parts of the country.
There has also been a push for innovation in finding alternative chemicals and new technologies leading to the development of more environmentally-friendly dyes.
Mountain to climb
Many problems are still unchanged. For instance, China's centralized treatment plants sometimes can't cope with the volume of wastewater produced in its new industrial parks. And existing factories, saddled with costly treatment processes, often build secret discharge pipes or release their wastewater at night to avoid detection, Ma said.
CNN has reached out to China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment for comment.
It also remains incredibly hard for consumers to navigate the complex web of supply chains the fashion industry is built on, even if they try to shop ethically. And while strides towards traceability and accountability have been made, there are still many brands and manufacturers not taking sustainability seriously, according to experts. Some experts believe the drive needs to come from big brands.
Ridding the fashion industry of hazardous chemicals is likely to become even more challenging as our clothing addiction increases. Apparel consumption is set to rise by 63% to 102 million tons a year in 2030, according to a 2017 Pulse of the Fashion report.
In Bangladesh, those living along Savar's black, contaminated rivers say they still feel helpless to stop the factories from polluting. Many fear repercussions from factory owners who often hold significant influence or political sway.
Read the full article here: Asian rivers are turning black. And our colorful closets are to blame