Whats your Pick-Synthetic or Natural Dyes

Vandita Jadeja

29 Jan 2018
Synthetic dyes have revolutionized the textile industry with their cost effectiveness and better results. Discovered in mid-19th century, these dyes soon became industry's choice as they could play with a plethora of colours offered by them. These dyes were easy to produce, and could stick to the fabric and stay for a longer period. Hence, textile industry that was more or less depending upon natural dyes - got a new ray of hope. The impact was seen on the clothing industry which exploded with demand for vibrant colours and affordable garments.
Today, textile industry largely depends upon synthetic dyes due to their mass availability and ever-changing customer behaviour. However, it is not easy for the textile industry to exist with these dyes as they are made out of chemical compounds and harmful to humans and environment. Some of the chemicals found in synthetic dyes are mercury, lead, chromium, copper and sodium, to mention a few. Moreover, they are not bio-degradable and hence pollute our water bodies.
Aware of the dangers, the dyers and textile manufacturers are undertaking steps towards cleaner and greener processes including minimising use of harmful chemicals in creation of dyes and treating the waste water effluents with bacteria to control water pollution. However, it is a while before textile industry reduces its carbon footprint and becomes greener. Currently, the industry is number one industrial polluter of water in the world.

Even as industry tackles to de-risk impacts of synthetic dyes, the growing awareness of environment hazards has led to the revival of natural dyes. Natural dyes are predominately derived from plant sources including roots, fruits, flowers, bark, leaves and wood. They are also derived from invertebrates and minerals.
The history of natural dyes goes back to Indus Valley Civilization. But in the modern times, these dyes could not be a lucrative option due to limitations like cost, availability and vibrancy.
Natural dyes require large arable land for production and hence mount up the cost. They are also not as vibrant as synthetic dyes, and do not stick to the fabric easily and fade out quickly. Furthermore, the typical natural dyeing process involves use of aluminium, ferrous, copper, stannic and chromium salts, with last three metal salts toxic in nature. Even sources of natural dyes like logwood and bloodroot are toxic in nature. The active ingredients in logwood - hematein and hematoxylin - is harmful when it gets in contact with the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. Similarly, bloodroot can cause irritation and inflammation when inhaled. Hence, contradicting their eco-friendly and bio-degradability.
Despite the disadvantages, natural dyes are seeing momentum in the market with improved processes and research. Scholars, researchers and industry at large are finding ways to make natural dyeing process more eco-friendly with use of biomordants as against metal mordants. They believe that natural dyes would exist alongside with synthetic dyes and none can replace the other.
Therefore, for a sustainable business, it is not a question of synthetic or natural dye but of wisely choosing products that have least impact on the mankind and the environment.
-By Team DCM, Mumbai


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