Sustainable water management needed to tackle textile industry pollution

Addressing the environmental effect of Pakistan's textile sector necessitates implementing sustainable water management practices, said a senior official.
Azmat Naz, Deputy Director at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told WealthPK that the textile sector holds a significant share in Pakistan's overall exports, but there are concerns regarding its environmental impact. Data available with WealthPK shows that textile exports accounted for 59.2% of total exports during the first 11 months (July-May) of the current fiscal year (2022-23).
“Addressing these challenges is crucial for ensuring long-term sustainability of the textile industry,” Azmat said. 
She emphasised that sustainable water management practices can help textile manufacturers minimise their environmental footprint. Water plays a vital role in various stages of textile production, including fibre cultivation, dyeing, printing, finishing, and garment washing.
Azmat said that unsustainable practices such as excessive water consumption, the release of untreated wastewater into water bodies, and the use of hazardous chemicals pose significant risks to human health and aquatic ecosystems. She said urgent action is required to implement sustainable water management practices.
The official said the implementation of stringent wastewater treatment standards and monitoring systems is essential to ensuring compliance with environmental regulations and reduce the ecological impact of the textile industry.
Amjad Hussain, Manager at Sadaqat Textile Mills Limited in Faisalabad, told WealthPK that water stewardship has become a prominent sustainability practice in the textile industry. 
He said international conventions and market demands have compelled textile companies to prioritise sustainable water consumption and wastewater treatment. He said larger textile companies are making progress in adhering to environmental regulations, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face challenges in adopting sustainable practices. 
“These challenges include limited financial resources, technological regulations,” he said. 
Amjad emphasised the need for inclusive knowledge transfer and incentives to support SMEs and enhancing their sustainability efforts.
He further highlighted that water conservation measures in the industry not only reduce production costs, but also decrease energy consumption, wastewater treatment expenses, and pollutant load. 
Additionally, such measures ensure the availability of water for future use. He said the textile industry in the country is actively working towards meeting the highest environmental performance standards.
Amjad mentioned that the country's textile sector is facing external challenges, including the government's withdrawal of the regionally competitive energy tariff (RCET). 
“The RCET, which was set at Rs19.99/kWh until June 30, 2023, has been withdrawn since March 1, 2023. This withdrawal has decreased the competitiveness of textile products in the global market, and has had an impact on their export,” Amjad said.
According to data of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, the exports of textile products in May 2023 amounted to $1.31 billion, indicating a decline of 20.1% from $1.64 billion in the same month of the previous fiscal year. 
Furthermore, the total exports for the 11-month period of FY23 reached $15.02 billion, a decrease of 14.7% from $17.61 billion in the same period of the previous fiscal year.
According to a report of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA), there is a need for a regulatory agency to oversee and control industrial water usage and waste discharge. The report emphasised that this agency should be granted sufficient authority to enforce penalties in case of non-compliance with pollution regulations by industries.

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