By  on December 10, 2009

NEW YORK — Biotechnology firm Genencor has added another item to its suite of PrimaGreen eco-friendly denim processing products.

The PrimaGreen range of products relies on using naturally occurring enzymes rather than traditional bleaches to achieve faded, washed and worn looks in denim. The latest product, dubbed PrimaGreen EcoLight 1, is a liquid biodegradable enzyme that can be used in the laundering process to attain a vintage look in denim. When used with other PrimaGreen products that allow for low-temperature denim fading and abrasion, the company believes water and energy usage can be cut by 40 to 70 percent.

“It’s very obvious that [the textile industry] is one of the most polluting industries there is,” said Nico van Schoot, senior global marketing manager for Genencor’s textile business. The process of washing, bleaching and dyeing garments often requires a lot of water at high temperatures, meaning more energy usage. However, van Schoot said he’s seen brands and retailers over the past several years take more of an interest in how their goods are made.

“Maybe one to two years ago [brands and retailers] would say ‘This is the effect we want to see.’ Now they’re not saying only that,” he said. “They’re now telling processors, ‘We want this effect and this is the process you have to use.’”

Adoption of lower-impact chemicals and machinery has started to gain momentum in the denim industry as more brands and companies begin to offer a clearer picture on the sizeable environmental footprint associated with it. Spanish denim research and development company Jeanologia estimates that 158.5 billion gallons of water and 1.3 million tons of chemicals are used each year in the denim finishing process. Examining the 2006 production year for jeans headed to the U.S. market, Levi Strauss & Co. found that making one pair of 501s required almost 920 gallons of water, 400 megajoules of energy and expelled 32 kilograms of carbon dioxide. Levi’s said this was equivalent to running a garden hose for 106 minutes, driving 78 miles and powering a computer for 556 hours.

Genencor has shifted its focus to work more directly with brands and retailers such as Levi’s, Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but using enzymes is more expensive than using traditional chemicals and processing methods. It’s a difficult argument to make in a time of depressed consumer spending, but van Schoot said the company stresses the overall savings in lowering consumption of resources.

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