No Blue, No Green. Attire Sustainably! – Part III

Call it ‘eco-fashion’ if you like, but I think it’s just common sense.” –- Livia Firth, Founder of Eco Age and the Green Age and the Green Carpet Challenge

No Water, No Life. No Blue, No Green. Attire Sustainably! – Part III (final article of 3 article series)

[The textile industry uses more than 8,000 chemicals to make the 400 billion m2 of fabric sold annually around the world. Many are toxic and persist in the environment. They include heavy-metal-rich dyes and fixing agents, bleaches, solvents, and detergents.

Making textiles is also a water-intensive business. Producing a pair of jeans requires about 1,800 gal of water; a T-shirt takes 700 gal. Treating such large volumes of waste water is costly—if it is treated at all. All toxic chemicals cannot be treated and end up into our fresh water ways which is causing pollution all over the textile manufacturing countries. Read more

Pollution also can occur after clothing leaves the factory. Outdoor gear is often stain- and waterproofed with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), but these additives can detach during use. The PFCs or their breakdown products end up in the environment where they can be persistent, bioaccumulative, and carcinogenic hazards.]

The textiles sector manufactures fabric from natural and man-made fibers. Typically, this involves processes such as stripping, blending, dyeing and weaving or knitting.

There are significant sustainability issues throughout the sector and the supply chain. There are many different treatments and finishing processes such as sizing and de-sizing, mercerizing, bleaching, fire retardant and anti-static treatments. These typically consume energy and water and result in handling of chemicals and other agents and contaminated waste water. Dryers, presses and other machinery use significant electricity. There are risks in terms of worker exploitation, use of pesticides and large amounts of water in the farming of natural fibers (such as cotton), use of plastic, paper and cardboard in packaging and the management and disposal of dyes and chemicals.

Sustainable Textiles continued….

The raffia palm (Raphia farinfera or R. ruffia) is a sustainable organic resource which grows in abundance in Madagascar. The enormous leaves of the palm are composed of leaflets, which are peeled from either side of the palm fronds then hung in the sun to dry. Once dry they are sorted into different classifications, pressed and dyed. The fiber offers excellent color-ability.

Ramie is an alternative fiber of the bast quality in the nettle family. Ramie has limited application as a textile because it requires significant chemical processing to be woven or knitted. Due to its strength (even when wet), it is usually blended with other, finer fibers, to add strength to the fabric or yarn. The most common application is as thread or packaging material and although it is a natural fiber, it is not recyclable.

Rayon is a large category of fibers that is always growing and is the generic term used for manmade textiles composed of regenerated cellulose treated with varying chemical solutions to create filaments. Rayon is therefore an umbrella term for several sub-categories of processes. There are four primary types of rayon processes: Viscose, Lyocell, Saponified (Acetate), and Cuprammonium — of which viscose is the most common.

These fibers are only half-synthetic because they are made from naturally occurring polymers, and are biodegradable. Rayon processing however typically utilizes harsh chemical solvents to process the fiber, which can lead to pollution and high-energy consumption.

A more sustainable version of rayon processing is implemented in the production of Lyocell, Tencel™, and Modal™.  These processes have been optimized to reduce toxic by-products.  Regenerated cellulosic fibers are also biodegradable.

Recycling nylon reduces the strain on natural resources by salvaging post-industrial waste fiber and yarn rather than using newly sourced petro-chemicals. Recycled nylon requires less energy and creates less CO2 pollution than virgin nylon. Recycled nylon also reduces discards and incinerator emissions and is recyclable again at the end of its life. Repreve Nylon™ is the trademark name for recycled nylon by the company Unifi.

Washi is the Japanese word for traditional paper: wa meaning Japanese, shi meaning paper. This is a fabric made of Japanese “washi” paper which comes from the kumazasa herb, to which is added the natural extract from the leaf of a bamboo plant native to Japan which is said to have anti-allergen and anti-bacterial properties that purify the blood. Manufacturers claim that the fabric blocks up to 90% of harmful UV rays and also has deodorizing and medicinal qualities, as well as acting as a thermo-regulator for the body in all seasons.

Seacell™ is a blend of lyocell and seaweed. This fiber is ideal for undergarments due to its naturally soft handle and anti-bacterial qualities. It is produced by Zimmer AG and is the most common form of Algae/Seaweed in a fabric. e Alginate).

Peace, or ahimsa silk production cultivates silkworms in open forest, where there is an easy source of food, and uses no hazardous chemicals. The silkworm chrysalis is collected after the moth has emerged naturally, hence the term “peace” or sometimes “vegetarian” silk. Peace silk is of lower quality than cultivated silk and the fibers are shorter than regular silk as the moth damages the silk cocoon, breaking the continuous filament as it exits the chrysalis. Bleaching and degumming processes are not used in the treatment of peace silk; instead it is processed with non-toxic chemicals and natural processes to reduce waste.

Eri silk is an animal protein fiber that is produced by the “Philosamia Ricini” silk worm and is processed in the same way as peace silk. It is a fine lustrous fiber that is biodegradable and is seldom processed with harsh dyes or chemicals.

Usually made in India, matka silk is comprised of 50% peace silk and 50% industrial silk. In matka silk, the weft is made of peace silk and the warp is made of industrial silk fiber. It is lustrous and strong like other silks, and it promotes to use of peace silk and sustainable processes. Matka silk is biodegradable.

Muga silk is made from the silkworm “Antherea assamensis,” which feeds on som and sualu leaves. Muga is known for its luster and glossy hand. Muga cannot be dyed or bleached, and therefore is always a golden yellow or golden brown color. Muga is also very durable, and will last for many lifetimes.

Wild or tussah silk production cultivates silkworms in open forest, where there is an easy source of food, and uses no hazardous chemicals. Tussah Silk known for its tan color, is made from cocoons that are harvested in the wild, often after the moths have left the cocoons and is considered a more humane option, which also qualifies it as a peace silk. As such its production can encourage forest preservation as an integral part of the forest ecosystem.

Tussah silk is degummed in the same way as cultivated silk by washing it with mild detergent. Wild silk is of lower quality than cultivated silk as the moth damages the silk cocoon, breaking the continuous filament as it exits the chrysalis. The fiber is generally an off-white or light brown color, but can be dyed almost any color. Because the silkworms are wild, the fiber can be considered organic, although it is not certifiable. Natural silk promotes biodiversity and fair treatment to animals. It is a biodegradable fiber. See Silk: TEXTILES: THE GOOD – HEALTHIER TEXTILE ALTERNATIVES

An agave plant and alternative plant fiber, sisal is primarily used in the production of rope and twine, and more recently has been used as an environmentally friendly alternative to materials such as asbestos and fiberglass for insulation. It is commonly mistaken to be a relative of hemp, which it is not. It is resilient and stiff, and as a naturally occurring fiber it is biodegradable.

Soy fibers are azlon or cellulosic fibers made from a natural protein base, either from a vegetable source, such as soya beans, or animal milk, such as milk fiber (which is known as casein) and are often referred to as “regenerated” fibers. Soy fiber is often made from by-products of the fabrication of soy food products. The soy protein is liquefied and spun into long filaments.

Soy produces a fiber with soft handle and attractive luster which is like silk and is often referred to as “vegetable cashmere”. Soy also has a low shrinkage percentage, and excellent color fastness. These fibers were initially developed in the 1950s, but have recently undergone a revival as ecological pressure to develop fully biodegradable fibers from renewable sources has intensified.

Straw is a by-product of cereal manufacturing. After the grain has been harvested, the straw is left. It can be used for bedding, as feed for animals, and to make hats, sandals, rope, paper, or various other items.

Tencel™ is the trademark name for a lyocell produced by Lenzing Fibers, using the cellulose from Eucalyptus trees, which can be planted on marginal lands and does not require irrigation or pesticides. Lenzing implements a 99.5% closed loop processing of this rayon, conserving water. Close to 100% of the solvent is recovered and the remaining emissions are broken down in biological water treatment plants; the solvent used is a non-toxic alternative to viscose. Tencel™ fabric drapes well and is quick-drying.

The fish skin is harvested as a by-product for use in accessories or apparel and is currently sourced from Col De Mar. Their Tilapia is farm-raised for food, and the fish skins are fairly small; the quality is similar to snakeskin. It comes in a variety of colors and finishes, and is sustainable because it utilizes skins that would otherwise go to landfill.

Leather can be vegetable tanned by exclusively using tannins and other vegetable matter. Depending on the mix of chemicals and plant matter, a variety of colors can result. Vegetable tanned leather is environmentally friendly.

Vicuna is a type of wool. The vicuna is a member of the camelid family and is indigenous to the Andean Highlands. The fiber is of one of the finest wool qualities and is naturally found in shades of white to reddish brown. This species was nearly extinct in the 1960’s, but the population is now growing thanks to new regulations on hunting and the establishment of vicuna reservations in Peru. Despite these repopulation efforts, this fiber is still rare.

Viscose made from wood from sustainably managed forests and viscose produced without chlorine-containing bleach and zinc sulphate and which avoids catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese are the safest alternatives.

Lyocell – Trade name Tencel™ is similar to viscose and uses pulp from eucalyptus trees, which are grown on sustainably run farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the fiber carries the Pan European Forest Council (PEFC) quality seal. The US Federal Trade Commission defines Lyocell as “a cellulose fabric that is obtained by an organic solvent spinning process”. It classifies the fiber as a sub-category of rayon.

Organic wool is a safer alternative, whereby sheep are reared on organically grown feed and graze on land that is not treated with pesticides. The sheep are not dipped in synthetic pyrethoids or organophosphates (OPs), or injected with any hormones and are fed on organic substances (either grain or grasses not treated with pesticides) in the production of organic wool. Truly organic wool is not treated with chemicals through the entire production process from the farm to the end garment and processing must not include the typical bleaching and chemical processing used on conventional wool.  Organic wool also refers to the process of making the sheered wool fiber into a spun yarn and textile. The organic manufacture of wool is very sustainable, but to comply with certification programs it is typically manufactured on a relatively small scale.

For many years, sheep producers around the world have maintained exotic, rare, and colored breeds of sheep. Naturally colored wool which is not dyed can be used for people with skin allergies and excludes the need to use chemical dyes, saving 70% of water.

Recycled wool is another sustainable fiber and refers to either fabric or product that has been regenerated for a second life cycle. The source of this wool can be cast-off material salvaged from the weaving and spinning process, scraps from clothing production, or post-consumer discarded material.

Developing a more sustainable future:

Textile industry must find ways of Improvement in the environmental performance of the sector is material specific and depends on the energy and toxicity life-cycle profile of the material.

For conventional cotton products, the requirement for energy is driven by laundry, but the use of toxic chemicals is driven by agriculture. In contrast, for viscose, energy use is dominated by production. For products in which production dominates impacts, process efficiencies should be pursued and the impact will be reduced by extending the life of the product or by re-using materials by some form of recycling.

For products in which raw material production dominates, in addition to measures to extend product life, alternative processes or materials should be pursued. A switch from conventional to organic cotton growing would eliminate most toxic releases.

Energy requirements for cotton garments are dominated by washing, drying and ironing. In response, wash temperatures can be reduced and tumble drying avoided. Novel treatments may provide resistance to odors so reducing the total number of washes or allow faster drying with less ironing. The current behavior in disposing of used clothing and textiles to landfill is not sustainable as volumes are growing. Incineration is preferable to landfill, as it allows energy recovery and reduces final waste volumes.

To create change:

  • Buy second-hand clothing and textiles where possible.
  • Buy fewer more durable garments and textile products.
  • When buying new products, choose those made with least energy and least toxic emissions, made by workers paid a credible living wage with reasonable employment rights and conditions.
  • Lease clothes that would otherwise not be worn to the end of their natural life.
  • Wash clothes less often, at lower temperatures and using eco-detergents, hang-dry them and avoid ironing where possible.
  • Extend the life of clothing and textile products through repair.
  • Dispose of used clothing and textiles through recycling businesses who would return them for second-hand sale wherever possible, but otherwise extract and recycle the yarn or fibers.

Several barriers inhibit the adoption of this behavior. To overcome these barriers, consumer education is vital – to ensure that fact based information on the specific impacts of a product are available and understood.

Main image courtesy:
Circular chart by :
Main image by Melissa Alexandria

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