Eco Alternatives to Cotton or Other Natural Fibers
Adverse weather conditions in recent years have resulted in decreased yields from organic and non organic cotton fields. These conditions and increasing global demands for cotton have resulted in reports of shortages in many parts of the world. The condition will extend to the future if both supply and demand remain unchanged.
Over the last five years, China has increased their domestic consumption of cotton by 20%. Production of cotton yarn in China will consume about 24 million tones of raw cotton annually. This is well above the 7 million tones of cotton that China is forecast to produce in 2010.
Regenerate and Recycle Since the first garment made from cellulosic leaves, humans used natural resources to produce clothes for body protection. All clothing was made from natural fibers until the first artificial silk, named Viscose was developed in 1894. Viscose was made by regenerating cellulosic fibers. This process uses harsh chemicals and large amounts of water. The development of synthetic fibers such as Nylon and Polyester provided more alternatives to natural fibers. Nylon and Polyester are fibers that can be recycled and made into new fiber for clothing and other consumer products.
Below are some facts about recycling of polyester that take the consumption side to take into consideration:
- 10 plastic bottles = 1 pound of polyester fiber
- 1 million plastic bottles recycled saves 250 barrels of oil
- Recycling plastic bottles takes 8 times less energy than to produce an equivalent amount of new ones
- 150 fleece garments made from recycled plastic bottles saves 1 barrel of oil
- Supplying the plastic bottles that Americans consume each year requires 47 million barrels of oil and releases 1.0 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere
Garments and fabric made from polyester can be recycled into new fiber and made into new fabrics and garments. Some brands and retailers such as Patagonia and REI collect their garments from consumers and then recycle them into fiber used in a new set of garments. The same can be done from off cuts and waste from the garment production process.
New Alternative Fibers
Lyocell was introduced to consumers in 1991 and was originally marketed as a type of Rayon. Lyocell is generated from cellulose in an environmentally friendly type of production. This makes Lyocell much more eco-friendly than other regenerated cellulosic fibers. Lyocell has many of the same properties as cotton. Fabrics made from Lyocell are very soft and can have a texture similar to silk. They have excellent absorbency, and resistance to wrinkle as well as high strength. Lyocell fabrics can be easy to care for since they can be machined washed.
Bamboo fiber in original natural form has appearance and functional properties similar to ramie, but it is even finer and thinner. The cross-section of the natural bamboo fiber is filled with various micro-gaps and micro-holes, giving it very good moisture absorption and ventilation. These features enable high breathability, which allows for the products to be cool and comfortable to the skin. The plantation of bamboo required no pesticide and fertilizer, emitting 30% more oxygen than leaf-trees, requiring less energy and less water to grow than cotton.
Karen E. Kyllo
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