In April I am going to be trawling through my wardrobe, ( such as it is). here is some background information to get you in the mood.
What’s in your Fabric
60% of fibres used today are synthetic and most of them are are petroleum derived, plastic in fact.
The most common are:
Acrylic fibre resembles wool and so is used to replace that natural fibre.
Nylon is used as a silk substitute. It is a very fine and strong fibre so can be used to make ladies tights.
Polyester is one of the most popular man-made fibres. It is the same Polyethylene terephthalat, (frequently shortened to PET or PETE and was formerly called PETP or PET-P), that is used to make bottles and a lot of other plastic stuff.
The next big player in the textile market is cotton. Then in much smaller amounts wool and silk.
The base material is cellulose that can be obtained from a range of sources including wood, paper, cotton fiber, or bamboo. It is then converted through a chemical process into a fiber. One such in bamboo. Most bamboo fabric is made using chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide combined with multi-phase bleaching. Both sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide have been linked to serious health problems. Others are looking extremely promising and are biodegradable. But I don’t really know enough about them and more research needs to be done. They make up a small percentage of the market so for now I am going to discount them!
You can find more detailed facts and figures about synthetic and natural fibres here
Why Choose Natural Fibres
Natural sounds so lovely and clean but it can be low down and very dirty. Cotton comes with its own nasty a gender. A quarter of the total worldwide pesticide use occurs in cotton farming, hundreds or farmers get poisoned and it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. Greedy and dirty!Read more…
Wool isn’t much better “The top three pesticides used on sheep are moderately toxic to humans but they are moderately to highly toxic to fish and amphibians, such as frogs, and they are suspected endocrine disruptors. Some of these pesticides are also highly water soluble which means that they can easily be carried from the sheep dip application site by rain or irrigation water runoff into our streams and rivers and contaminate our groundwater.” From Organic Clothing blog
However there are equally nasty chemicals used in making synthetic fibres. For example when making polyester, “Antimony is leached from the fibers during the high temperature dyeing process which is then expelled with the waste water. If not properly cleaned this results in a hazardous water pollutant. Acrylonitrile used to make acrylic fibres is classed by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen (Group B1).
A main ingredient of Nylon is “the chemical adipic acid. Producing the acid was once the largest source of industrial nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas. Efficient pollution controls have reduced adipic acid emissions 61 percent between 1990 and 2006, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the chemical still accounts for 5-8 percent of global human-caused emissions of N2O.” read more
Plastic Fabric Pollution
Moreover synthetic fibres have the same qualities as plastic. The problems with a polyester sock are the same as with a PET bottle. Though you get more wear out of a sock eventually it gets thrown away and because it is now non-biodegradable rubbish it needs to be special disposed of. Which is expensive and not always effective. Often cheap clothes and fabrics are not properly disposed of and go on to pollute the environment in the same way a bottle may. Plus all the other problems attendant with plastic products (you can read more about the problems with plastic here).
And it’s not just end of life disposal that is difficult, synthetic fabrics pollute through out their life time. Everytime they are washed they shed thousands of non biodegradable micro plastic fibres that wash down the drains and into the oceans where they are now affecting the ecosystem, (see micro plastics for more)
The energy used (and the CO2 emitted) to create 1 ton of spun fiber is much higher for synthetics than for hemp or cotton.
So, while acknowledging that natural fabrics have a major environmental impact I feel they are a better option for the following reasons
- options for greener production ie organic and so have the potential to be safer to produce
- can be washed often (don’t release micro plastics)
- smaller carbon footprint
- can be composted further reducing the carbon footprint
You can see the contents of my wardrobe here