Natural Dyes - Why Our Planet Depends On Naturally Dyed Materials

The difference between natural and synthetic dyes is that synthetic dyes are chemically-manufactured where natural dyes are directly sourced from nature. Natural dyes, although pure from chemicals, are often times more expensive than chemical dyes. This is why most textile and clothing industries have shifted to using chemical dyes. 

Discovered in the mid-19th century, mauveine, the first man-made color, transformed textile manufacturing. These synthetic colors allowed manufacturers to operate in large quantities and offer vivid, rich colors easily. They became the "best" option because of improved colorfastness, better shade consistency and more reliable resources.⁣ This ease of use comes with a price, though. 

The textile dyes significantly compromise the aesthetic quality of water bodies, increase biochemical and chemical oxygen demand, impair photosynthesis, inhibit plant growth, penetrate the food chain, provide recalcitrance and bioaccumulation and may promote toxicity, mutations and carcinogenicity. 

Groundwater, rivers and streams near civilizations are being severely affected. With such a high demand for cheap clothes and textiles, factories find cheap, quick ways to produce products at high volumes. Tirupur, India is home to many factories specifically used for making and dyeing clothes. These factories have been dumping the wastewater from production into rivers in the area. Despite regulations, they continue the process, rendering local and groundwater undrinkable.

Natural dyes have an older, more intentional heritage. Natural dyes are derived from plants, fungi, animals, fruits, insects, minerals and other natural resources. 

In terms of the future, natural dyes are an economically and environmentally viable option for textile design. Natural dyes are vastly more beneficial for the environment when compared to synthetic dyes. Further more, natural dyes are economically beneficial to the country in terms of exporting them. Such an economic benefit, however, requires the textile industry to desire to purchase natural dyes over cheaper, synthetic dyes. This option is not economically viable for the textile industry, which is why synthetic dyes are in more demand. Textile industries need to recognize the benefits of natural dyes in terms of the environment and actively make choices in purchasing eco friendly, non-toxic, natural dyes over chemically-produced synthetic dyes.

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