Globally, awareness about consuming ‘green’, ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘sustainable’ products has been rising. This is so especially after the United Nations in 2015 announced as many as 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030.

To attract customer attention, many companies have started to claim that their products are sustainably produced. High-end branded products covering a range of consumer goods from premium foods to personal care products claim to follow sustainability principles and responsible sourcing.

However, companies are under greater scrutiny about their sustainability claims these days. This is a challenge they will have to face and overcome. Changing behaviour among environmentally conscious and socially aware consumers is seen putting pressure on top-end brands.

The textile industry consumes huge quantities of resources such as water, energy and chemicals. Indiscriminate use of these poses a threat to sustainability. Every year, millions of tonnes of clothes are manufactured, worn and discarded. No wonder, globally, the textile industry is known as a big polluter because of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In our country the textile and apparel industry is a critical and integral part of the manufacturing sector. The industry is a major income and employment generator. It is also a massive foreign exchange earner through the export route. From ‘Till to Textiles’, the chain is long with several intermediaries.

To overcome the environmental and social scrutiny, the textile industry needs to minimise pollution and help advance sustainability. This is where traceability comes in. It is the ability to track and trace the whole life-cycle of textile products — from raw material and final goods to consumption, disposal and recycling, if done.

Traceability in supply chain will enhance the industry’s efficiency. It can ensure steady supplies of consistent quality material, help identify and address disruption as well as allow better risk management.

Circularity is critical

Importantly, the cotton textile industry consumes natural fibre — cotton — which is referred to as ‘white gold’. The logical questions would be: where was the raw material from, how was it grown, how was it processed, how was it distributed and consumed, and what happens after that?

From a sustainability perspective, circularity is critical. Recycling will help reduce GHG emissions, save resources and help maximise overall economic, social and environmental benefits.

It is important that we give textiles and clothing a second life. We have to reuse them, repurpose them. Otherwise, they will end up as landfill as happens in advanced economies.

China has a policy to recycle textile waste. The European Union has a Waste Directive Framework. But India does not have a policy as yet. We need to frame a suitable policy whereby the Indian textile industry can contribute to advancing our energy transition commitment.

The Indian textile and apparel market is currently estimated at over $150 billion, of which, export constitutes over $40 billion. A recent report pointed out that the global textile and apparel trade is set to reach $1,000 billion by 2025-26 and that in the same period the Indian textile and apparel market will reach $250 billion.

To achieve the target, it is necessary to adopt good regulatory practices and increased focus on quality, compliance and investment. As part of this, we need policies to encourage recycling of discarded textiles. This is important given the socio-economic status of the country and income disparities.

Admittedly, the per capita availability and consumption of textiles in India is far less than in advanced economies; but demand is surely on the rise with rising disposable incomes and demographic pressure.

The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal