Conventional textile production has enormous environmental impacts to our planet. The World Bank estimates that the textile industry is responsible for as much as 20 percent of industrial pollution to our rivers and land. Large-scale farming uses huge amounts of water and typically involves fertilizers and pesticides that make their way into our water and air. Then, during the dyeing process, leftover dye washes out into the water supply, causing pollution. Heavy metals are used as dye fixatives, adding to water and air pollution, and the bleach used to whiten fabric also can have a significant negative impact.
Finding ways to curb the environmental pollution caused by textile production starts with finding new ways to produce fabrics that don’t require toxins and large amounts of water, and which minimize harm to local the ecology.
Here are some examples of sustainable textiles:
- Organic Cotton – as the name implies, organic cotton is grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The process to make organic cotton requires less water to manufacture than the conventional cotton textiles.
- Silk – is produced by moths and conventional silk production methods destroy the moth and the cocoon in the process. Conventional silk is made by boiling the intact cocoons and unwinding the single silk strand onto reels. When the fabric is produced by weavers on handlooms, the process has near zero energy footprint. Organic silk is created without the use of any chemicals or treatments using insecticides, pesticides or synthetic additives (often used by some silk suppliers to provide additional softness to their silk fabrics).
- Hemp – is actually the ‘sober cousin’ of marijuana. Hemp is a fast-growing plant that is easily managed, can be grown organically and used for clothing and other textiles.
- Bamboo – considered sustainable source for textiles because of its adaptability. It is an extremely fast growing plant that doesn’t need to be replanted each yer, doesn’t require massive amounts of pesticides and is a great air cleaner for global warming concerns.
- Organic wool – sustainable wool is harvested from sheep that are raised in humane conditions. Research shows that adequate living conditions and reduced stress results in less disease and a better agricultural product. Organically raised sheep have been shown to have better immune systems that can withstand the parasites and diseases that commonly plague conventionally raised animals.
- Linen – is made from flax, a plant that is naturally immune to insects and disease. As a result, little is required in the way of chemical treatments when growing the plants (to put it in perspective, cotton uses seven times as much). During processing, linen uses one-fourth of the water that cotton does and produces little waste as every byproduct is put to use. Linen does not take dye well, so leaving linen in its natural color is better for the environment than putting it through a dyeing process.
Although no fabric is truly one hundred percent good for the environment, it is possible to make an educated choice when selecting a textile.