Levi Strauss tests 100% recycled water in parts of its jeans production

The jeans manufacturer has developed a new water recycling standard to reduce its impact on the world’s water resources

Editor’s Note:  This article works toward a definition of “100% recycled,” which can mean different things in different contexts and from different sources.  Since in a sense all water is “100% recycled,” none of it being used for the very first time, you could apply the label to any water you use, even if you use it only one time and discharge it.  On the other extreme, 100% recycled water would mean that no new water is introduced into the closed loop of a particular process, with the same water being recirculated for reuse ad infinitum.  As the article below indicates, Levi Strauss’s definition falls somewhere in the middle, and the company is to be applauded for its effort in any event. — Hardly Waite.

Levi Strauss has created a process for using 100% recycled water in parts of its garment production, Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at the company, has told the Guardian.

In what the jeans manufacturer claims to be an industry first, the process is the result of a new water recycling standard – verified by third parties – that aims to reduce the impact of garment production on fresh water resources.

The process is being used in one of the brand’s key Chinese factories, which bleaches, dyes and stone washes garments to achieve specific looks or feels.

The factory, located in southern China, worked with Levi Strauss to engineer a system to pipe 100% recycled water into an industrial laundry machine used for finishing one of its jeans lines. Some 100,000 pairs have now been produced with the new technology.

Kobori says the company looked at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines on reuse of water, as well as World Health Organization guidelines on managing waste water.

“We then hired engineers from the textile industry to adapt these general guidelines into a set of standards that can be specifically used in our industry,” he says.

The process is still in the testing phases, but the goal is to eventually use 100% recycled water to finish a broader range of Levi Strauss products at factories in other parts of the world, he says.

Different Different Definitions of 100% Recycled

One of the third parties Levi Strauss asked to review the standard was Gilbert O’Neal, president of the Institute of Textile Technology.

O’Neal has worked with some of the largest textile and apparel makers in the world to help them use less water, and discharge less polluted water.

He says it’s not impossible to finish a garment with recycled water, but that the term “100% recycled” can be misleading because saying a garment is made from 100% recycled water is not the same as saying that 100% of the waste water is recycled.

“The garment industry is really good at establishing standards and talking a great game about sustainability,” O’Neal says. “But the challenge is in the implementation.”

For example, there’s no economically feasible way to recycle 100% of laundry machine water in a closed loop system, he says.

“It requires membrane technology that may triple or quadruple the cost of water treatment,” O’Neal says. “That’s a cost that most consumers won’t accept.”

So what does Levi Strauss mean by 100% recycled water? O’Neal says the he has not seen the engineering or other information from the Chinese factory, so he doesn’t know for sure. But he suspects to keep the process economical, they recycle a portion of the waste water that is most easily treated.

O’Neal says Levi Strauss is probably using 100% recycled water, but isn’t achieving “zero liquid discharge” – or zero waste water – the highest standard in industrial water recycling. However, the process likely does reduce the amount of effluent, or waste water, from the factory, he adds.

Levi Strauss, which is expected to announce this news later today, says it hopes the standard will help other apparel brands and retailers increase their use of recycled water and reduce industry effluent.

Article Source– The Guardian.

Pure Water Gazette Fair Use Statement