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China’s Textile Industry Leans Green

Speaking at the Texworld USA show in midtown Manhattan, Zhang Yankai, vice president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council, promised an increased commitment by the Chinese textile industry to environmental progress. ‘In the next four years, we are going to work very hard to create a green environment so [the industry] continues growth in the future.”

In a rare moment of candid self-criticism last week,  China issued a report card on the nation’s environmental conditions, describing them as “grim.” The report also noted a “marked deterioration in China’s air, water and land quality.” A shockingly low twenty-seven out of 113 cities evaluated satisfied the bare minimum quality standards, set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. More than 30 percent of China’s major rivers were labeled either “polluted” or “seriously polluted” while more than 57 percent of the groundwater assessed in 198 cities was “bad or “extremely bad.”

China’s textile industry has become a central focus of its renewed efforts to reverse environmental degradation given its considerable size. China accounts for nearly half of the world’s fiber production and is both the largest textile producer and apparel exporter internationally. And their output continues to swell, with textile production jumping 12.3 percent in 2012 while apparel exports rose 3.3 percent.

Unsurprisingly, China is also a world leader in rubbish production. According to the China Association of Comprehensive Resource Utilization, the country creates more than twenty million tons of fabric waste annually. The industry’s primary failing, in this regard, is a neglect of recycling; millions of tons of fiber could be effectively repurposed if only a fraction of this waste was recycled.

Many experts express concern that China’s current economic slowdown will divert resources and attention from its aggressive plan to implement environmental improvements. Zhang, however, promises an unwavering commitment. “Although the industry has faced a relatively complex domestic and international economic situation, the pace of reorganization and transformation and upgrades has increased and these efforts have yielded positive results,” Zhang said.