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[MANILA] Common plants could help cut the Philippines's reliance on imported synthetic dyes and reduce the pollution they cause, according to researchers there.

The scientists, from the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), have identified 26 species of plants — including mangrove trees, a type of onion, and guava and cashew nut trees — that could be used to produce high-quality natural dyes.

The PTRI — an institute of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology — has also developed techniques for efficiently extracting the dyes.

The species are widely distributed in the Philippines and in other tropical countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Zenaida de Guzman, who led the research, told SciDev.Net the plants can be easily cultivated in humid regions.

The textile industry discharges toxic waste into water systems and, according to the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is one of the main sources of environmental pollution.

This is due in part to the use of synthetic dyes, which are more abundant, cheaper and easier to apply than natural dyes.

The Philippines has been importing most of its dyeing, tanning and other colouring materials because of the absence of local manufacturers of either synthetic or natural dyestuffs, PTRI reported.

To address this problem, PTRI has been collaborating with other agencies to develop technologies for extracting and applying natural dyes.

"The government should continue its efforts to revive the natural dyeing technology — not only in order to cut down the country's reliance on synthetic dye imports but also to explore benefits that can be derived from indigenous sources," PTRI director Carlos Tomboc told SciDev.net.

The Philippine Textile Research Institute is compiling a book containing information about the plants and their applications. They expect the book will be available in January 2005.

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