Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Dye-Filled Bacteria Could Replace the Fashion Industry's Dirty Dyeing Habits

Science
Dye-Filled Bacteria Could Replace the Fashion Industry's Dirty Dyeing Habits
The modern global textile and fashion industries rely on many chemical dyes to create patterns and colors, but these often produce toxic wastewater. Engin Akyurt / Pixabay

Fast fashion has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world, next to big oil, and how we color our clothes is a large part of the problem. Now, Colorifix, a UK biotech company founded by Cambridge University scientists, has developed a new way to dye clothes that doesn't harm the planet.



Historically, natural dyes extracted from plants and flowers were used to color fabrics. The production of modern chemical dyes uses more than 8,000 chemicals, solvents and additives to create different colors and effects on fabrics, reported Pure Earth and CNN. Many, like sulfur, arsenic and formaldehyde, are harmful to wildlife and humans, and end up in industrial wastewater from the dye production process, reported CNN.

In less developed Asian countries, where a large share of today's clothes is produced, weak regulations and/or enforcement allow textile manufacturers to dump toxic substances directly into local waterways, reported CNN. This has caused the dyeing industry to become one of the most environmentally harmful in the world. In fact, according to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing.

"When we realized that so much of the pollution comes from something as simple as putting color into our clothes, we thought 'there has to be a better way,'" Colorifix's CEO Orr Yarkoni told CNN.

According to Yarkoni, Colorifix's new method uses biotechnology and bacteria to eliminate the need for toxic chemicals and claims its processes use 90% less water and up to 40% less energy than conventional dyeing, reported CNN.

Unlike with natural dyeing, Colorifix pigments are not derived straight or extracted from plants or animals. And, unlike with chemical dyeing, they don't use anything hazardous in the process, explained Yarkoni in a CNN video.

Instead, Colorifix "copies nature's processes in a lab setting, by replicating the 'DNA message' that codes for color in an organism," according to CNN. This tricks the genetically-modified bacteria to create and fill up with those exact same colors.

"So what we can do is take a feather off a parrot, scrape a few cells off ... and in those cells, look for the DNA message 'make red,'" Yarkoni told CNN. "We can then put that same message into our microorganism that will make that same red that the parrot makes the same way that the parrot makes it."

Yarkoni's team then duplicates the dyed bacterial cells in a fermenting machine, feeding them sugar molasses and nitrogen — byproducts from the agricultural industry, LA BioTech reported. The cells duplicate themselves every 25 minutes. The fermentation process which duplicates the bacteria is similar to beer, but instead of making alcohol, Colorifix makes pigments, CNN reported.

In an industry-first, the dyed bacteria are then applied onto the fabric directly and heated until they burst, releasing their dye onto the fabric, LA BioTech reported. The cell membranes then wash off but the color stays.

"What we're doing is not just providing a new pigment. We're providing a new way of getting the pigment into the fiber," Yarkoni told LA BioTech.

This new way of applying dyes to fabrics is more efficient and environmentally-beneficial because it removes the middle step of isolating dyes from microbes and applying them to textiles, which is water- and chemical-intensive, Colorifix told CNN.

Yarkoni also touted the additional benefit of reducing fashion's huge carbon footprint from shipping. Currently, the industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions per year than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined.

Rather than shipping large amounts of dye, Colorifix can send five grams of color-packed bacteria to a dyehouse, and the microorganisms will multiply within 10 days to the point where the factory can produce 50 tonnes of dye solution a day, according to CNN.

Competitor PILI, a French startup creating ready-to-use dyes from plant sugars and microbes, critiqued Colorifix's "grow your own" approach to dyeing because dyehouses will need to buy fermenting equipment and receive training on the process, CNN reported. These hurdles could create resistance to making the switch to sustainable dyes, Pili claimed, CNN reported. Other industry experts worried about the regulatory issues surrounding the transport of live microbes safely.

Colorifix has been hugely successful and received backing from Swedish fashion giant H&M. Colorifix has more customers than it can handle, and launched its first industrial trial at a Portuguese dyehouse last month, CNN reported.

"I truly believe that in the future, a very large proportion of our industry — if not all of it — will be based on these biological principles," Yarkoni told CNN.

An electric car at an eVgo charging station in a parking lot in Dublin, California on June 20, 2018. Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Long-finned pilot whales are seen during a 1998 stranding in Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.

Read More Show Less
A protest in solidarity with the Wetʼsuwetʼen's anti-pipeline struggle, at Canada House in Trafalgar Square on March 1, 2020 in London, England. More than 200 environmental groups had their Facebook accounts suspended days before an online solidarity protest. Ollie Millington / Getty Images

Facebook suspended more than 200 accounts belonging to environmental and Indigenous groups Saturday, casting doubt on the company's stated commitments to addressing the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
The Västra Hamnen neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden, runs on renewable energy. Tomas Ottosson / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Harry Kretchmer

By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch