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Clothing Dye Runoff and its Environmental Impact

Shaila Venkat

The fashion industry, known for its rapid trends and constant innovation, has a significant environmental footprint that often goes unnoticed. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of this impact is the discharge of clothing dye runoff into water systems, which occurs during the dyeing process when excess dye and chemicals are expelled into water streams untreated . This pollution has far-reaching consequences for both aquatic ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, as the toxins and chemicals present in these dyes can harm aquatic life and have long-lasting effects on water quality. The fashion industry is a large contributor to this problem, with textile dyeing being one of the most polluting stages of garment production.

The environmental impact of clothing dye runoff is not confined to a specific region, but rather a global concern affecting millions every year. CNN Style reports that textile dyeing is the second-largest contributor to water pollution worldwide, with the fashion industry responsible for approximately 20% of water pollution.

The chemicals present in clothing dyes pose severe threats to aquatic ecosystems, as Good On You highlights that these chemicals can disrupt the balance of aquatic life, leading to the death of fish and other species. Additionally, the contamination of water sources can harm local communities that rely on these waterways for drinking water and agriculture. The long-term consequences of clothing dye runoff can be devastating, with Euronews emphasizing that the accumulation of toxins in water bodies can persist for years, making it challenging to reverse the damage. This not only affects the immediate environment but also poses risks to human health, as polluted water sources can lead to various health problems.

So how can we prevent this from happening? Addressing clothing dye runoff requires a multifaceted approach involving industry regulation and corporate responsibility. Fashion Revolution argues that stricter regulations on the disposal of dye wastewater and the use of safer, more sustainable dyeing techniques are essential. Moreover, fashion brands must take accountability for their practices and invest in sustainable dyeing processes to reduce their environmental impact.

Currently, efforts are underway to develop more sustainable dyeing methods that reduce the environmental impact of clothing production. CNN Style mentions innovative techniques like waterless dyeing and digital printing, which can significantly reduce water consumption and minimize dye runoff. These solutions demonstrate the fashion industry’s potential to adopt more eco-friendly practices, which can reduce the amount of clothing dye used in the production process.

The issue of clothing dye runoff and its environmental impact cannot be ignored any longer. This problem is pervasive, affecting aquatic ecosystems and communities worldwide. The fashion industry’s contribution to water pollution through textile dyeing is alarming, necessitating immediate action. Regulation and corporate accountability are essential components of the solution, with stricter environmental standards and sustainable dyeing practices being imperative to affecting change. As consumers, we can also play a role by supporting brands that prioritize eco-friendly dyeing methods and by being conscious of our own clothing choices. Only through collective efforts can we mitigate the harmful effects of clothing dye runoff and work towards a more sustainable world.


1. Regan, H. (2020, September 28). Asian rivers are turning black. And our colorful closets are to blame. CNN Style. 

2. Hudd, A. (2022, February 26). Dyeing for fashion: Why the clothes industry is causing 20% of water pollution. Euronews Green. 

3. Wolfe, I. (2021, October 18). Textile dyes pollution: The truth about fashion’s toxic colours. good on you. 

4. Ranson, B. (2019). The true cost of colour: The impact of textile dyes on water systems. Fashion Revolution. 

5. Image from


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