The simple fact that you are here now reading this means you want to “do something” - you are concerned, and even if your actions only start today, you have already joined the community and are part of the movement for change, along with those who want to help slow down and eradicate the tipping point where climate change could decimate the world's water, food and energy resources, and put like that it can sound like a monumental and irreversible task, but it’s not.
Maybe you are already thinking about changing your behaviour towards eating meat and embracing a more plant-based diet, or considering growing your own food, you have started upcycling, and leading a zero-waste lifestyle or maybe you don’t know where to start? Well let’s start right here, thinking about the way we consume materials which furnish our homes andclothe our bodies.
You may have heard that it can take approx. 8200 litres of water to grow enough cotton to make one pair of jeans, and the chemicals used in the dying processes can be dumped or seep into rivers, so not only depleting the planet’s most important resource, polluting what’s left. According to a report by the Soil Association we mostly underestimate the full environmental impact of cotton, thinking it takes only 314 litres of water to make a T-shirt but in fact the true figure is 2,700 litres. Yet buying a certified organic cotton T-shirt rather than an ordinary one would save a staggering 2,457 litres of water! Also, as a minimum standard the certified cotton will be free from genetically modified organisms, fungicides, biocides and other toxic chemical. Certified organic cotton ensures working conditions are safe and hygienic, with freedom of association for workers with the right to collective bargaining, there is no child labour, fair wages are paid, working hours are not excessive therefore there is no forced labour.Switching to Organic cotton is a sustainable option and an ethical one too.
There are so many fantastic sustainable materials that we use in our everyday existence, here are examples of two plant base materials can be used in almost inexhaustible measures – Bamboo and Hemp.
Bamboo fabric is softer than cotton with a texture similar to silk. It is a naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic, it is also quick to absorb moisture, therefore keeping you dry and odor free. Pure bamboo can dry twice as fast as cotton clothes.
It can be worn all year round keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter. Having a bamboo capsule wardrobe that can be worn all year round reduces waste, and is cost effective in the long term. Bamboo bedding is thought to induce better sleep patterns.
But the story of bamboo fabric is a mixed bag, and one you have to be careful of. Much of the bamboo clothing and bedding available in many of our high street stores is made from bamboo pulp, and is actually rayon, or viscose rayon, created and processed using a toxic soup of chemicals and huge amounts of caustic soda that generates significant pollution. It is harmful and unsustainable. You will often see products labelled as Bamboo Rayon, or Bamboo Viscose so beware of these materials and always check you are buying 100% organic bamboo which has been mechanically not chemically produced.
The cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes has been done by many civilizations for over 12,000 years. Industrial hemp was the desired fibre used to manufacture rope, canvas, paper, and clothing until alternative textiles and synthetics were discovered. Hemp is planted in dense crops not allowing sun light to penetrate, which reduces weed growth by 95%, therefore eliminating the need for herbicides. No pesticides are used due to the inherent properties contained in the plant itself - it has the ability to suppress the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, this also means that water quality is improved because there is no toxic runoff from the fields. As a result of this hemp does not require organic growing certification.
Just 1 acre of usable hemp fibre is equal to the usable fibre of 4 acres of trees or 2 acres of cotton. Hemp matures in as little as 100 days, and as with other crops as long as it is grown responsibly with a good water management system, it is ideal for our future.
Hemp is a cousin to linen, looks and feels similar, and like linen softens nicely with age. It has eight times the tensile strength and four times the durability of other natural fibres, it is mildew resistant and anti-microbial making it an excellent safe yarn for kitchen and dining areas. Although many associate Hemp as a course fibre fit only for sacking and rope making, Hemp is one of the lightest fibres available, giving clothes made out of hemp a lightweight and breathable feel.
Leather and its plastic alternatives
Leather/skin/hide is not a by-product of the meat industry but is a co-product, and the industries effects on the environment due to the ever-increasing consumption have been associated with pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption. Those leading a cruelty-free lifestyle will look for ethical alternatives. But whilst ethical, synthetic leather, vegan leather, leather look, faux leather, there are any number named products out there, can be seriously toxic during the manufacturing process, damaging to the environment and not a sustainable option, at all. Be careful which ‘non leather’ you chose.
Firstly, you should steer clear of PVC. Quite simply, PVC is a petrochemical product that is heavily processed from start to finish and can take an enormous variety of forms, it is popular for its weather-resistant qualities in coats, jackets, and even skiing equipment. The first thing to know about PVC, it’s hugely reliant on fossil fuels - which we as a society are desperately trying to turn our backs on. Couple that with the potential health risks of Phthalates (falates), and the overwhelming pressure of plastic waste on our Oceans – the bottom line is, for a sustainable world, avoid PVC!
Polyurathanes or PUs
In some sense, the more correct term is ‘PU coated fabric’ because the actual fabric component is the underlying synthetic polyester or nylon fabric underneath. PU fabric for faux/vegan leather is made by the coating that synthetic base fabric with a chemical compound paste and then drying it. The polyurethane coating is applied to a single side of the base fabric and it makes the fabric water resistant, light weight and flexible. However, it is not an environmentally friendly paste or process. This is mainly because the coating paste has very high levels of the toxic solvent DMF (dimethyl formamide). When emitted during traditional PU processing, the solvent eventually becomes greenhouse gas.
However, there are some amazing companies producing really great alternatives. By switching from DMF-based polyurethane production to a water-based process (WBPU). In WBPU, water is the medium used to create foamed polyurethane dispersions as the coating material for the underlying fabric, so it's eco-friendly and harmless to the human body. It does not contain any toxic chemicals and is non-flammable.
The fabric is both soft and breathable, suitable for lightweight products such as women’s outerwear. It can help reduce waste as it consumes less energy in the manufacturing process than leather and of course and of course is 100% cruelty free.
Leather alternatives - it just gets better!
Pineapple leather is made from the leaves of the pineapple plant, and is therefore a by-product of the fruit industry, using the leaves of the fruit which were once discarded or burned. Once the fibre has been stripped from the leaf the leftover biomass can be retained to use as a natural fertiliser or bio-fuel, offering a further environmental prospect. Pineapple leather directly addresses these issues as a sustainably sourced textile, made from a natural waste product, created with low water use and low production waste, containing no harmful chemicals or animal products. Gaining in popularity pineapple leather shoes, bags and accessories are becoming ever more affordable.
Mushroom leather is an environmentally friendly material because it can be treated without using polluting substances. At the end of its life, the material is completely biodegradable and compostable. It is extremely light-weight and flexible too, which makes it effective for a wide range of products. The potential of this material is far reaching and will greatly reduce the need for animal agriculture in the leather supply chain. The material can be produced in days rather than years too, which significantly reduces environmental impact.
Mushroom textiles certainly have a future in many industries. It can already be found in clothing and bags, and even durable furniture and building bricks mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus it is carbon-negative and can be naturally dyed to any colour.
Fabric created from mycelium is non-toxic, waterproof, and fire-resistant. It can be as thin as paper for dresses and lamp shades, or incredibly thick for heavy-duty items, and in both cases, the result is remarkably flexible and strong.
From materials that have been with us for centuries to those that are new and all-encompassing of the need for sustainable change, we can re-introduce balance, re-educate ourselves to what we need, over what we want, because if we take away from our resources we need to give back.
Article by Jacqui Hamlin, Co-founder & Global Sourcing Director, Beyond Bamboo.
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