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The impact of 'zero' coming into fashion: Zero liquid discharge uptake and socio-technical transitions in Tirupur

Jenny Grönwall
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Stockholm, Sweden jenny.gronwall@siwi.org

Anna C. Jonsson
Division of Environmental Change, Department of Thematic Studies, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden anna.c.jonsson@liu.se

ABSTRACT: The textile industry is one of the major industrial polluters, and water recycling is yet far from being standard practice. Wastewater generation remains a serious and growing problem, affecting ecosystems, human health and freshwater availability for other uses. India is the world’s third largest exporter of textiles and the sector directly employs 45 million people. This case study explores the socio-technical transition of Tirupur, a textile cluster dubbed as the first in India to shift to 'zero liquid discharge' (ZLD) in a systematic manner. It traces a path towards increased environmental sustainability that takes off in a time characterised by no effluent treatment, to the advanced approach to wastewater handling that was the norm in 2016. By adding a multi-scalar perspective, light is shed on where the system changes emerged that inspired key actors during various phases of the defining 35 years.
The process towards ZLD becoming best practice involves conflicts, adaptation, resistance, and vast socioeconomic losses. Eventually, innovative ideas and artefacts replaced old practices, and effluent discharge has become a symbol of noncompliance. Farmers’ movements, authority directions and court orders drove the development, which came to inform a policy shift to mainstream water recovery in the textiles industry.

KEYWORDS: Zero liquid discharge, sustainable textiles, water recycling, wastewater treatment, Tirupur, India