Blog: Leonie BarrieIn a pickle over textile effluent

Leonie Barrie | 24 September 2010

Hot on the heels of yesterday's story about two of the world's largest clothing retailers working with their Chinese textile suppliers to reduce water, energy, and chemical use in their supply chains, comes news of another way to help firms to clean up their act: pickle-spoiling bacteria. Yes, you did read that right.

While suppliers to Walmart and H&M will be looking at more obvious things like finding and preventing leaks, re-using steam and water, installing proper insulation and electricity meters, it seems scientists in the US have been focusing their attention on a more unconventional way of treating textile effluent.

Apparently, the same bacteria that cause the red colouration on pickles that have gone off (it's actually a chemical reaction with yellow food-colouring agent tartrazine), can also modify azo dyes, which are used in the textile industry and may be passed along to wastewater streams if untreated. Azo dyes give fabrics vivid and warm colours such as red, orange, and yellow, and while many are nontoxic, some have been found to be mutagenic.

The researchers, who are based at the Food Science Research Unit, point out that a lot of effort has been put into trying to identify microorganisms capable of degrading azo dyes in wastewater. And if food-grade bacteria can do the job, they may well prove to be the organisms of choice for waste-treatment applications.

It's definitely food for thought.


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