Environmental Impact of Jeans Laundries in Northeast Brazil

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2008

37 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Background
2.1 Development in Brazil
2.2 Development of Northeastern Brazil
2.3 Importance of the textile industry for local economy .
2.4 Environmental issues

3 Environmental Problems
3.1 Water Pollution
3.1.1 Applied treatment technology
3.1.2 Characterization of the wastewater
3.1.3 Remaining problems
3.2 Solid Waste
3.3 Steam Production and Energy Efficiency
3.3.1 Fuel Choice for Steam Production
3.3.2 Energy flows and losses in laundries

4 Future of Jeans Laundering in Caruaru and Toritama

5 Summary and Conclusion

List of Figures

2.1 Human Development in Brazil
2.2 Human Development in Pernambuco
2.3 Typical scenery of small laundry in the backyard

3.1 Treatment technology
3.2 Treatment in two different laundries
3.3 Solid waste treatment
3.4 Fuel used in laundries
3.5 Fuel costs
3.6 Boiler systems to generate hot water and steam
3.7 Distribution of water temperatures needed in a selected laundry

4.1 Impact on the local population

List of Tables

3.1 Wastewater characteristics for a selected laundry

Acronyms and abbreviations

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1 Introduction

Recently, environmental issues receive more and more attention by the public worldwide. Nevertheless, people often expect politicians and industries to come up with solutions, especially in the context of climate change mitigation. The inconvenient truth however is that there is a clear link between consumption behavior and environmental degradation. Even worse, in many cases consumers in developed nations are responsible for impacts affecting people in less developed regions. One example is clothing. Nearly everybody has got at least one pair of jeans, even though most people have no idea about jeans production and the impact thereof.

The aim of this paper is to present environmental impacts of the jeans industry in the case of jeans laundries in Northeast Brazil and to discuss possible solutions under the given socio-economic constraints of this region. First, some general background information is provided in order to point out the outstanding importance of the clothing industry for the local economy. This importance explains why for several years an unwritten agree- ment between local politicians and companies in form of a devil ’ s deal existed, that freed enterprises not only from environmental and labor regulations, but also tax payments.

Interesting is that in this particular case, it were not the authorities, but an entrepreneur that started looking for possibilities to reduce the environmental impacts. This had been the trigger for authorities to become more active again. Chapter 3 contains an analysis of the environmental problems caused by wastewater and residuals, as well as applied solu- tions. A special role play issues of energy efficiency in steam and hot water production, based on a detailed analysis of one of the biggest laundries. Finally, an outline for the future of jeans industry is provided.

2 Background

This chapter provides an brief overview on the existing disparities and its implications on environmental awareness within Brazil in the first part. A more detailed view on the situation in the federal state of Pernambuco and the development of the area of the textile industry cluster of Caruaru, Santa Cruz do Capibaribe and Toritama is presented in the second part. Having this background knowledge is helpful for the understanding of issues described in the following chapters.

2.1 Development in Brazil

The Federal Republic of Brazil is the fifth biggest country of the world and the largest in South America. Compared to other developing countries, indicators of living standards are relatively good, though the country still faces problems of the developing world, for example a relatively fast growing population and especially a rapid urbanization. Within the last 40 years, the share of urban population increased from 40% to 80% (Ramakrishna et al., 2003), causing social problems in urban agglomerations. Brazil is still one of the most unequal countries, especially in regard to income distribution and land possession, which are highly concentrated. The richest 20% of the population accumulate 66.1% of the total income, while the poorest 20% of the population receive only 2.3%. Less than 3% of all farming land is available for small farms (< 10 ha), but large farms (> 10,000 ha) occupy more than 40% of the farming land (Seroa da Motta, 2002).

In the following, the Human Development Index (HDI) is applied to visualize regional differences in development within Brazil. The HDI takes three dimensions into consider- ation: (1) life expectancy, (2) knowledge (average adult literacy and years of schooling), and (3) the standard of living (real per capita income). These three indicators influence the total HDI by one third each, so that the final index may sum up to the value of 1.0 in the optimal case. The United Nations Development Programme groups countries according the Human Development Index into three categories (UNDP, 2007):

- Countries with high human development (HDI 0.8)
- Countries with medium human development (0.5 HDI 0.8)
- Countries with low human development (HDI 0.5)

Concerning Brazil, the country’s average HDI value increased from 0.789 in the year 2000 to 0.800 in 2005 (UNDP, 2007), i.e. its classification changed for the better from a country with medium to a country of high human development. However, considerable regional disparities can be observed (Figure 2.1 on the facing page). In general, one can state that in South and Southeast the living standard is the highest. The Southeast, especially the conurbation of São Paulo, is Brazil’s economic and industrial center. All three Southern states (Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul) are characterized by a strong influence of European immigration in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. On the other hand, the Northeast is often considered as poorhouse of Brazil and faces problems due to structures established with the colonization since the beginning of the 16th century. Except from tourism at the coastline, on the countryside sugar cane plantations and processing industries still play a vital role as one of the few possibilities for the region to provide employment. Due to low development in connection with hot and dry climate, economic alternatives are hard to find.

Bearing this in mind, the importance to strengthen environmental awareness and education becomes evident, since the acceptance of lowering the environmental quality in turn for economic growth increases especially among the lower income-classes. Many companies are lacking of knowledge concerning main initiatives on global environmental issues, though a great majority already recognizes the relevance to their business activities. Even the current political agenda concentrates rather on economic growth and reduction of social gaps. Environmental concerns have to be balanced against development and equity issues (Seroa da Motta, 2002). Consequently, authorities may refrain from pursuing environmental policies, as pointed out in the following.

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Figure 2.1: Human Development in Brazil (Source: UNDP, 2003)

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Figure 2.2: Human Development in Pernambuco (Source: UNDP, 2003)

2.2 Development of Northeastern Brazil

Pernambuco is one of the nine federal states in Northeast Brazil and belongs to the least developed parts of the country. Besides the touristic areas along the coastline, in people’s perception the countryside is associated with poverty and droughts. Regarding the poverty level, the region can be compared with Central African countries. Approximately 75% of the inhabitants, and respectively 60% of the urban population, are living at or even below the poverty line of 1 US$ per day (Meier & Wahl, 2005).

As shown in figure 2.2 on the previous page, most municipalities in Pernambuco are either colored dark or light red, i.e. have a rather low HDI between 0.460 and 0.659. Caruaru, Santa Cruz do Capibaribe and Toritama are classified in the next higher category (beige) with HDIs from 0.660 to 0.729 and therefore higher developed than their surroundings. Except for textile industry, Caruaru as second most important city of Pernambuco serves as an important trade center for the region. Furthermore, climate conditions still allow agriculture. Higher developed regions can be only found in and around Recife (capital of Pernambuco) at the coast, and Petrolina in the Southwest. Petrolina gained its boom with the construction of the Sobradinho dam, which not only provides electricity, but also allows irrigation and made the area to become a wine producing region.

2.3 Importance of the textile industry for local economy

Providing around 140.000 jobs, the garment industry is the second most important eco- nomic sector. The major cluster of clothing industry emerged in the municipalities of Caruaru (289,086 inhabitants), Toritama (29,907 inhabitants) and Santa Cruz do Capibaribe (73,667 inhabitants). Located ca. 120 km from the capital, Recife, this area comprises a population of almost 400,000 inhabitants (IBGE, 2007) and became Brazil’s major jeans manufacturing center, supplying ca. 18% of the country’s jeans production. This indus- trial sector is furthermore characterized by a high fraction of small and medium sized fam- ily enterprises. In several cases, one member of a family owns the dressmaking company, while another family member takes responsibility for the laundering activities. Ongoing market liberalization puts pressure on the local textile industry due to cheap imports of mass products from Asian countries like China.

2.3 Importance of the textile industry for local economy

During the first half of the 1990s, almost all of the firms in the sector used to be informal, i.e. operating without proper registration and paying taxes. To the mind of the owners, this resulted from bureaucratic barriers and high tax burdens (Meier & Wahl, 2005). But for years also the government of Pernambuco avoided to enforce labor, environmental and tax regulations. Officials were simply afraid to disrupt the local economy. Due to the absence of tax payments however, the government felt not obliged to invest in im- proving the infrastructure. The result was a devil ’ s deal1 between government officials and entrepreneurs (Almeida, 2005). Another outcome of informality was the inability to access bank credits and support from governmental agencies for vocational training, as well as joining business associations. This situation started to change with the election of a new board of the business association Sindivest2 in 1997, that started to take care of the interests of local businesses and successfully lobbied for tax reductions from 17% to 4% on sales. Officials came to the conclusion that “a larger number of businesses which pay lower taxes might net the country more than a small number of businesses paying high taxes” (Meier & Wahl, 2005). Regularization also allowed firms obtaining support in order to improve product quality and diversity. Until the middle of 1990s, clothes from the region were known to be rather cheap and of low quality. Only a few companies were able to sell their products on other important markets in Brazil. This situation improved already, but needs urgently further efforts to defend its market share with ongoing liber- alization of the Brazilian market and also conquer other markets to ensure that this sector can survive.

2.4 Environmental issues

Compared to the production of other clothes, denim production has a strong impact on the environment. Over the whole production cycle from planting cotton to the end product, Chapagain et al. (2006) estimated the average of 10,850 liters of water consumed per pair of jeans in total. Most of the amount of needed water is related to cotton growing. For jeans production in Caruaru and Toritama, the main impact is caused by the wash- ing process. In this last step of production, detergents, conditioners and other chemical substances are applied to obtain jeans with the desired look. The exact amount of water needed varies on the individual washing process, mainly influenced by the different de- sign of jeans. Values on water consumption are ranging between 60 and 100 liters per pair of jeans (Almeida, 2005). Data provided by one laundry yields to an average of 70 liters per piece. Given a total output of one million jeans every month by all companies, implies not only the consumption of up to 60-100 million liter of water, but also means that the same amount of wastewater needs to be treated in order to avoid environmental damages and risk to health. Furthermore, water and wastewater treatment are also considerable cost factors.

One of the first steps towards environmental improvements was taken more or less by accident after the droughts in 1999, when the price for water increased dramatically and laundries’ owners had to organize transport of water by trucks from nearby cities. In- terested in an economical solution to reduce the high costs for water, the owner of one of the largest laundries in Toritama, contacted SINDIVEST. Finally, SINDIVEST estab- lished the contact to BFZ3, that was interested in developing a technology to recycle water and control water pollution. BFZ came up with a low-cost solution which was 70% less expensive than already existing ones, since it used only material available in the region.

The other important factor was the nomination of a new public attorney in Toritama in 2001. Influenced by education that promoted “the importance of environmental law to achieve sustainable development”, he “was shocked by the lack of compliance of local firms with the labor regulation and the environmental law” (Almeida, 2005).


1 Tendler (2002) uses the term devil ’ s deal to describe the deal between stakeholders and local en- trepreneurs in the form of “Vote for me, so I won’t do anything to make you comply with labor, en- vironmental and tax regulations”. Involved politicians often assume that in such a way they help small businesses to survive.

2 Sindicato das Indústrias do Vestibular, Business Association of the Textile Industry

3 Berufliche Fortbildungszentren der Bayrischen Wirtschaft, Training and Development Centers of the Bavarian Employers’ Associations

Excerpt out of 37 pages


Environmental Impact of Jeans Laundries in Northeast Brazil
Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus
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ISBN (Book)
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Jeans Laundries, Northeast Brazil, Energy Efficiency, Wastewater, Pollution, Clean Development, Cleaner Production, Developing Countries
Quote paper
M.Sc. Sören Noack (Author), 2008, Environmental Impact of Jeans Laundries in Northeast Brazil , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/167981


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