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Waterloo woman wins award for ‘green chemistry’ dye that cuts textile water pollution

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Photo of a textile dyeing factory. The fashion industry’s accounts for an estimated 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide. Photo credit: Aleksei, stock.adobe.com

A woman from Waterloo, Ontario, has won an environmental entrepreneur award for an all-natural dyeing innovation that may help the textile industry cut its industrial water pollution footprint, without compromising its colour palette.

The breakthrough project “grows” colour with microorganisms, says creator Iris Redinger, who wanted to reduce the fashion industry’s estimated impact of contributing some 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide.

“Dyeing clothing is one of the biggest environmental challenges in the fashion industry,” Redinger explained in a statement. “Historically, we used plants to colour textiles, but now we use chemical processes derived from harmful petroleum products. With recent developments in synthetic biology, now is the right time to return to nature as a source for colour,” she added.

Redinger, 23, founded Material Futures in 2018 and hired a research team to help develop her method, which is patent pending. After identifying microorganisms that naturally produce colour, she applied genetic engineering techniques to make it their primary function. The end products, she explained, are fully biodegradable colorants that can be easily substituted into existing manufacturing processes.

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“Pollution from textile dyes in many countries occurs because of lacklustre wastewater treatment processes,” said Redinger. While one solution is to develop dye that doesn’t require water for the colouring process, that approach often means overhauling infrastructure. She believes her “green chemistry” approach is a more accessible and cost-effective option with wide-reaching applications.

Redinger said she is also investigating her natural dye’s application for cosmetics, food colorants, plastics and other industries.

“By applying green chemistry and natural elements, we’re working to create a more environmentally conscious and sustainable fashion world,” added Redinger.

Redinger’s focus is now on growing her solution, which has been proven at the lab scale. The technology has gone through rigorous performance and feasibility testing to ensure the naturally-dyed textiles stand up to repeated washing without fading and meet other thresholds for industry-grade fabrics.

For her breakthrough work, Redinger was presented with the Mitacs Environmental Entrepreneur Award on June 2 at a ceremony in Montreal. Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

Redinger graduated from the University of Waterloo, where she studied architecture. She had the opportunity to work with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen on the renowned Dome Dress, shown at Paris Fashion Week in 2017.

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