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China Finds New Way to Treat Textile Wastewater

China, the world’s largest textile producer, is tackling the industry’s pollution problem with a new facility.

On March 6, the nation opened its first radiation wastewater plant in Jinhua city, roughly 200 miles south of Shanghai. The facility, which uses electron beams to treat industrial wastewater, will assist China in promoting more sustainable manufacturing processes.

“Despite advances in conventional wastewater treatment technology in recent years, radiation remains the only technology that can treat the most stubborn colorants in wastewater,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) radiation processing specialist Sunil Sabharwal said. “The problem is that the technology exists in developed countries, while most of the need now is in the developing world.”

Today, textile dyeing is responsible for a fifth of all global industrial wastewater pollution. Although some industrial nations use radiation to treat contaminated water from textile dyeing plants, some developing countries in Asia don’t have the resources to minimize wastewater pollution.

To remedy this situation, the IAEA conducted a technology research project that fostered the development of radiation wastewater plants in Asia. For China’s new facility, researchers received advice from Hungary, Korea and Poland about construction and implementing technology to minimize the textile industry’s carbon footprint.

The Jinhua-based plant will treat around a sixth of the plant’s wastewater output, which is approximately 1,500 cubic meters of wastewater per day. Unlike bacterial wastewater treatments, radiation breaks down the 70 plus complex chemical compounds from textile dyes. Irradiating the effluent with electronic beams allows scientists to take these harmful substances and minimize them into smaller molecules for removal. Breaking down the chemical compounds also streamlines the removal process for facilities and is more sustainable for wastewater treatment in the long run.

The IAEA plans to incorporate more radiation wastewater plants in China and other Asian countries this year. Other textile manufacturing countries, like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, have also expressed interest in working with the IAEA to improve wastewater treatment sustainability at their factories.

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