MILAN — Italy’s denim industry is working creatively to reduce waste as it becomes more sensitive not just to an increasingly green national conscience but also regulations that are no longer just national but European in scope.
A representative from the European Environmental Agency said the European Union issues various waste-related directives that all member states must translate into national law. On its Web site, the European Commission, the governing body of the EU, states that “the long-term goal is to turn Europe into a recycling society, avoiding waste and using unavoidable waste as a resource wherever possible.”
“There are no specific directives for waste from the textiles industry, but waste from this industry is covered by several directives,” the EEA representative said, listing the Landfill Directive, the Waste Incineration Directive and the recently revised Waste Framework Directive, which focuses on waste prevention and recycling, as examples. “In addition, member states have to report to Eurostat,” a EC directorate-general charged with providing European statistics, “at the Data Center on Waste.” Member states are also responsible for enforcing waste directives and reporting on their implementation to the EC, which can start infringement procedures for improper implementation.
Denim waste varies at each stage of production: Companies that make fabric and those specialized in fabric dyeing and laundering face different issues in waste management. Alberto Candiani, global manager at Tessitura di Robecchetto Candiani SpA, a denim fabric production company, called dyeing and laundering “two totally different worlds.” “Our waste,” he continued, “is primarily due to the raw material, which is cotton.”
Candiani noted that waste management represents less than 1 percent of his company’s production costs, but he emphasized the importance of recycling waste products. For example, when cotton is cleaned, a certain amount of fiber — called “cascame,” or cotton waste — is left over, which Robecchetto Candiani sells to Italian specialists that transform the leftover fiber into rags and industrial cleaning products.
When thread is colored with indigo, there is typically a small amount of additional thread waste, which for the past two years Robecchetto Candiani has recycled by mixing with fresh cotton to achieve a new weave, easily recognized by its blue-gray color. At one time, people frowned upon this type of blend, but now it possesses “a kind of authenticity” and “vintage” flavor that make it appealing, Candiani said.
He noted that cloth can contain up to about 30 percent recycled cotton and still be of good quality, but if the percentage of recycled cotton is too high, the cloth becomes weak and unworkable.
“If the results were not attractive, efforts at sustainability would not be successful,” Candiani added. The company is also establishing partnerships with its clients to recycle slightly defective jeans, but the details of these arrangements are still being worked out.
Giovanni Petrin, general manager at Martelli Lavorazioni Tessili SpA, a company that specializes in dyeworks and laundering, said the main sources of waste in his sector come from purification plants, although dryers and various plastic and wood-packaging materials also contribute.
Petrin did not have a cost estimate but said waste management is expensive for the dyeing and laundering business and has increased in recent years alongside the rising cost of electricity: Martelli’s organic purification plant runs 24 hours a day, year-round.
“In the dyeing sector, we pay close attention to all aspects of waste management,” he said. “All waste is catalogued and removed.”
Martelli separates its plastic waste, compresses its cardboard and wood scraps, and sends the bundles away with authorized waste disposal companies. Purification plants create an accumulation of pumice and clay “mud,” which can be treated and used in agriculture and cement factories. Each type of waste has its own code and different kinds of mud are taken to specific dumping sites.
In addition, companies such as Martelli must abide by rigid safety regulations that also affect their waste disposal practices.
“Safety costs us a lot, also because there are always new rules,” said Petrin, citing safety courses all company employees are required to take annually, and inspections by a plethora of representatives including workplace safety agents, health agents, workers’ compensation authorities, environmental protection agents, fire fighters and local police officers. “I believe that the state should reduce the number of regulations, simplify them, but most of all, reduce the number of authoritative bodies in charge of inspections.”
Martelli hired an engineer with the manager of prevention and protection services title to oversee plant safety. Each plant also works with an outside company that follows updates to national safety regulations and puts them into practice, providing monthly updates to the manager.
“We have excellent control and an excellent system” in Italy, Petrin said. “I think we are good and well-organized.”
“It’s an obligation” to manage waste in an ecologically friendly way, said Candiani, adding that in Italy, innovative and responsible waste management “is absolutely a trend” in the industry. “Italy is inheriting the northern European attitude,” he said. “The collective conscience is rising.”
Until recently, some Italians called sustainability “a left-wing concept for a right-wing wallet,” that is, a feel-good exercise for the wealthy that puts production and products beyond the reach of average companies and consumers, but today, “the costs are much closer,” Candiani said. “The cost gap is decreasing between the creation of a sustainable product and that of an unsustainable product, and the trend [toward sustainable practices] is solid.”
Robecchetto Candiani is also focused on reducing water consumption at all stages of production, and Candiani believes in the necessity for the laundering and cloth specialties to manage waste in tandem. He described his company’s water-efficient “indigo juice,” which colors thread with an indigo that washes out more easily, so the fabric will require less treatment at a dye-works plant, which is convenient in creating jeans with a vintage look.
Candiani and Petrin each sense that laws are increasingly harmonized in Europe, although there are still variations in regulations from one Italian region to another. For example, Petrin noted that his company, which has a plant in the Veneto region, has to follow especially stringent water-draining standards there because of laws protecting Venice and its lagoon.