Pakistan's textile sector is one of the country's most important manufacturing industries, employing around 40 per cent of its blue-collar workers and comprising almost 30 per cent of the nation's value added goods. As in many other countries, the government has brought in new legislation to protect the environment and promote more "Green" production processes. Atif Malik reveals exactly what this legislation means for Pakistan's clothing and textile companies and how the sector is facing up to the challenges ahead.

Pakistan's textile sector is one of its most important manufacturing industries, employing 40 per cent of its blue-collar workers and producing 30 per cent of its value added goods. It generates nearly two thirds of the country's total exports - in absolute terms $5.8 billion of textile products were exported in fiscal 2002.

The largest employer in Pakistan's textile industry is the garment manufacturing sector which provides jobs for 730,000 people at 4,500 firms with a total annual capacity of 57 million dozen garments. There are also 700 knitting units and 400 spinning firms employ more than 200,000 people. The cotton and synthetic weaving sector employs 300,000 people and the processing sector more than 100,000 between 650 units.

With such a huge workforce and vital role in the economy, it is crucial that Pakistan's textile sector is able to cope with recent globalisation that has seen tariff barriers lowered and certain trade restrictions axed. This includes the introduction of various "Green" regulations that aim to protect the environment by limiting hazardous processes and through the implementation of quality systems and standards.

The new laws have hit the textile sector's processing industry the hardest as it generates the highest levels of wastewater and is the main user of hazardous chemicals. Compliance with environmental regulations here ensures the sustainability of trade in other segments, including textile made-ups and garments.

More than 650 units carry out processes including fabric bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing. Around 1.08-0.15 cubic metres of water is used to produce one kilogram of finished fabric, translating into 1,000-3,000 m3 of wastewater generation per day against a production of 12-20 ton/day of finished fabric.

At the moment, the wastewater is discharged into the local environment without any treatment. It includes a worrying range of chemicals including bleaching agents, vat dyes, azo dyes, sulphur dyes, disperse dyes and colour pigments, hydrochloric acid, ammonia, chromium salt, soda ash, caustic soda, sodium sulphate and sulphuric acid.

Chemical cocktail
Extensive use of these chemicals by the processing industry results in a discharge of toxic elements as effluents. If not treated properly these have the potential to cause significant environmental degradation as they flow into streams, rivers and irrigation channels.

Characteristics of Wastewater (Textile Processing in Pakistan)

Parameters
    Prevailing Ranges
   NEQS Limits
Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)
120-440
80
Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)
300-1,100
150
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
200-5,000
3,500
Total Suspended Solids (TSS)
50-240
150
PH Value
8-11
6-10
Oil and Grease
10-45
10
Chromium
0.5-2.5
1.0
All values in parts per millions (ppm), except pH
Source: ETPI effluent survey

The table above clearly shows the status of effluents discharged by the textile processing industry, with all of the processes leading to breaches of the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS). In certain cases the minimum prevalent limits, such as BOD and COD, are much higher than the maximum limits prescribed in the NEQS.

Certain processes generate a greater degree of pollution than others. In dyeing and bleaching the values of COD, TSS, and TDS by far exceed the NEQS recommended values. The resulting chemical cocktail plays havoc with the eco-system when dumped in sewers, from where it ends up in rivers or ground water reservoirs.

Azo dyes
The most commonly-used dyestuff in Pakistan's textile sector is azo dyes. The dyestuff containing azo dyes provides one of the most cost effective dyeing solutions but due to its health effects, imports of fabric processed with them have been banned by some EU countries.

The European Commission recently tabled a draft proposal to amend the EU Directive 76/769/EEC on the banning of azo dyes. The proposal provides a list of products including clothing, bed wear and shoes and is seen as a broad step to impose restrictions on the import of products containing azo dyestuff above a certain limit. This will also have a negative effect on the exports of textile products from Pakistan to the EU.

Eco-labelling
The Eco-Labelling system is a quality label standard that ensures products are made through an environmentally friendly process and meet the ecological criteria set by the EC. The standard is based on a life cycle analysis so products can only qualify if they have been made through an environment friendly process. In actual terms it covers the whole value chain from fibre to spinning, weaving, processing and stitching.

In each stage the process should be able to control air, water, and solid waste pollution by ending or reducing the use of hazardous chemicals and substances, within the prescribed limits. A T-shirt manufactured in Pakistan using fabric processed under the above conditions will not qualify for eco-label status. This could have serious consequences if companies or countries decide to impose this quality standard for imported products.

Over the past few years developed countries have adopted numerous measures that have resulted in extra pressure to comply with environment standards.

However, many small and medium-sized textile processing units do not have the capacity to install effluent treatment plants in order to control industrial pollution and comply with national environment standards.

Environmental management standards
With the unprecedented increase in trade growth primarily driven by high investments in off-shore operations by the developed countries, a number of developed economies started developing environment standards.

Examples include some two dozen eco-labelling schemes such as the British Standards Institute's BS 7750 (Specification for Environmental Management Systems), the Canadian Standards Association's Z750 (A Guide for a Voluntary Environmental Management System), and the EU EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme).

In order to provide a level playing field to the developing countries and stop further proliferation of environmental standards, the International Standards Organisation formed the ISO 1400 series. This addresses environmental management systems, environmental auditing, environmental labelling, environmental performance evaluation, and life cycle assessment.

Although the standards do not prescribe performance levels, performance improvements are invariably achieved by any business if its commitment to environmental care is emphasised and employees are trained and made aware of the policies in place to protect the environment.

Paksitan's government realised the importance of environment preservation in the early 1980s when the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council was formed to establish environment policies under a National Conservation Strategy (NCS). The strategy's key aims include increasing energy and irrigation efficiency, developing renewable energy, preventing and reducing pollution and improving waste management.

The implementation of this broad agenda under NCS is an enormous task. A review of the NCS two years ago found the focus has remained on institutional strengthening and awareness building and also revealed less then half of the planned $2.5 billion was invested in the scheme.

Under new environmental laws firms can now be fined a pollution charge if they fail to dispose of waste products properly. But small and medium-sized firms are most likely to face difficulties in complying with these regulations due to a lack of awareness, compliance capacity, technical know-how and money.

Ideally, the government should adopt a cluster development approach, where a targeted group of companies benefits from a focused government initiative to protect the environment.

By Atif Malik