Well, it’s day 5 of the Challenge, and my last post spoke about the prevalence of plastic being used as a common fabric today. It made sense then for me to next explore some of the alternatives fabrics, so I’m doing just that, giving a quick snapshot of some alternatives: cotton, linen, wool, and bamboo. This is not meant to be packed with information, but to give enough of a glimpse to be able to compare these alternatives to polyester and other synthetic fibers. It is also good to mention that it is always good to check the tag of any garment you are purchasing, because often polyester is mixed in with more natural fabrics. Rarely do I see a piece of clothing these days that is 100% pure fabric.
Cotton is the most widespread non-food crop worldwide, and approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. It requires a lot of water (20,o00 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton). “While it covers just 2.5% of the planet’s total agricultural area, the cotton crop uses 7% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides” (The Guardian).
Watch this short video for more information:
The World Economic Forum has identified water scarcity as one of the top 10 global risks to society over the next 10 years, yet the bulk of cotton is grown in countries that are already facing severe water stress (The Guardian).
Despite the concerns regarding cotton and the environment, there are initiatives to make cotton more sustainable, with less water and chemical use. Organic cotton uses up to 91% less water.
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. The flax plant can grow with just rainwater, without irrigation or pesticides, and when left untreated (i.e. not chemically dyed) it is fully biodegradable. For these reasons linen is often described as a sustainable eco-friendly clothing alternative.
Flax is a difficult plant to harvest and it has become more costly to produce linen. Flax plants are used for many purposes, but the fiber itself comes from the stem and root of the flax plant, requiring careful harvesting, often done by hand. For these reasons, linen is not a common easily accessed material, and is typically more expensive.
Wool is the fur that is obtained from sheep and other animals. “Wool has several sustainable attributes: it is rapidly renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, and can be produced organically. … In terms of performance, wool is something of a miracle fabric. Highly durable, with inherent flame-resistant properties, it also has some natural water repellency” (The Guardian).
There are some drawbacks to wool. Sheep need large amounts of land, leaving it unattainable for alternative agricultural purposes. They also require water and food to survive, taking up a large amount of resources to simply produce a fabric. Similar to cows, sheep release a large amount of methane gas into the atmosphere, which contribute to our overall atmospheric greenhouse gases. Farming livestock contribute to approximately 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, and estimates have come out at totaling 18% of global emissions. This is a part of the reason why eating less meat is highly encouraged in the environmental community, as a way to reduce our global emissions.
Although this is not specifically an environmental concern, there’s been exposure on the high rate of animal abuse in the wool industry, so it is important to be aware of this, and to ensure buying from a trusted ethical source.
The following information has been taken from my previous post “Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?: Part 2.”
“Bamboo forests have many environmental benefits because they function as carbon sinks, produce oxygen, control soil erosion, provide organic matter, regulate water levels in watersheds, conserve biodiversity, beautify the landscape, and essentially contribute to the purification and regulation of the environment” (source).
Wow, that is a big claim. It feels like we should stop right there. Of course the above information is true, if bamboo is left alone to be just a plant instead of a material we extract and use to manufacture products.
Bamboo is a plant, a raw material, and is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) developing plants. With 1,500 different species it can grow anywhere from sea level to 12,000 feet and is grown in sub tropical zones, mainly South East Asia and Central America. It is adaptable with a short life cycle. Where trees can be harvested anywhere from 10-30 years, the bamboo lifecycle is anywhere from 2-5 years. It replenishes quickly, which makes it very sustainable.
There has been a lot of information published recently about bamboo fabric. It has been advertised as an eco-friendly alternative, especially in comparison to cotton. Typically the fabric is made by soaking the bamboo in a variety of chemicals in order to break it down into a soft pulp. These chemicals are known to be harmful to human health and aquatic life, and are released into our water supplies. If you want to read more about this, please read this very informative article by The Green Hub. In this article they clarify the many terms used to describe different bamboo fabrics and what they mean. This article also talks about how Bamboo Linen is a chemical-free alternative, but is rare to find.
Here is a lovely chart for those who are visual learners:
For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:
- thrift stores
- slow fashion
- ways to make your closet sustainable