The risks to human health, and the environment, posed by chemicals found in many synthetic dyes and solvents are widely reported - particularly chemicals such as aniline, dioxin, formaldehyde and toxic heavy metals such as chrome, copper, and zinc. The alternatives include:
Natural dyes are dyes or colourants derived from plants, invertebrates, or minerals. The majority of natural dyes are vegetable dyes from plant sources—roots, berries, bark, leaves, and wood—and other organic sources such as fungi and lichens. The use of natural dyes involves using mordants, it is very important what mordant is used. While Alum is thought to be the most environmental friendly option metals such as Chrome, Tin, and Copper should be avoided. It is also very important how the polluted waste water is disposed of at the end of the process. Ideally water should be filtered with the solid particles composted. Natural dying is more labour intensive and unpredictable than conventional dying.
Low Impact / AZO free dyes:
Low-impact dyes are dyes with a higher than average absorption rate. This means less water is required in the rinse process and less dye runs off in the water, therefore, the dyes have a lower impact on the environment. Low-impact dyes do not contain heavy metals (like chrome, copper and zinc), nor do they require toxic chemical mordants to fix them to the fibre. They are an ecologically friendly solution that are used in a similar fashion to conventional dyes, are no more time consuming and there are a vast range of colours available. The best low impact dyes are those that are GOTS certified such as Dystar.
AZO free printing:
Digital printing in general has a lower environmental impact than conventional printing methods as it can achieve savings in water and energy use and waste production. There are currently no digital printers in the UK using GOTS certified inks, however Les Trouvailles D’Amadine in France offers an excellent service. Silk Screen Printing is more wasteful, however, using water based or GOTS certified inks such as Permatex minimises its damage. Block printing is a printing tradition that creates employment for artisans and also has minimum impact on the environment.