The textile and apparel industry in China is to “go green” and comply with new government regulations for sustainable production in the sector, knowing that the companies failing to keep up with such demands will be closed down.

As part of its 12th Five-Year Plan, covering 2011 to 2015, China seeks to create a “circular economy” that systematically reuses waste materials and reduces pollution. China's textile sector is one of seven industries being targeted by efforts to limit and prevent chemical pollution in the country by 2015. For the first time, the five-year chemical management plan issued by the Ministry of Environment last month indicates 58 chemicals on the priority risk prevention and control “blacklist.” Greenpeace, the strong environmental pressure group has described the move as a “breakthrough,” since it would indicate that China's chemical management has shifted from pollution control to elimination.

With its global Detox campaign, Greenpeace has long pointed to the role of the textile industry in hazardous water pollution, asking fashion brands and retailers to pledge to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals throughout their products and supply chains by 2020.

Under new government regulations, energy consumption by the textile industry should diminish by 20 percent by 2015 compared with 2010 levels, and water consumption should fall by 30 percent over the same period. The production of fibers from recycled materials should reach 8 million tonnes. At a “circular economy” government summit staged in Beijing in February, the China National Textile and Apparel Council, a state-owned Beijing agency, made various announcements about how it intends to respond to the plan.

Among the different measures, regarding textile finishing, for example, the plan calls for the utilization of biodegradable slurry, as well as using new processing technologies such as digital printing, airflow dyeing and cold pad-batch dyeing. These methods are all considered to be more eco-friendly than traditional chemical dyeing, currently generating about 8 percent of sewage discharged from all Chinese industries, according to the Ministry of Environment.

China's textile industry is expected to make significant investments to meet the demands of the “circular economy” plan, although investing in green technologies is said to be likely to help Chinese manufacturers be prepared in case developed markets abroad impose more green tariffs, such as linking duties to pollution associated with production.

China generates around 20 million tonnes of wasted fabrics annually, and if 60 percent of these were recycled, 4.7 million tonnes of natural fibers and 9.4 million tonnes of chemical fibers would be saved, according to the Beijing-based China Association of Resource Comprehensive Utilization. While in the West recycled fibers account for about 17 percent of all processed fibers annually, Chinese manufacturers currently recycle very little.