As consumers become savvier and more environmentally conscious, they’re paying attention to the fabrics used in their clothing. They want to know what sustainable fabric means and how it differs from traditional textiles.
For example, hemp requires less water than cotton and can be grown in various climates. Other sustainable fabrics include lyocell, made from wood pulp, and Pinatex, a vegan replacement for leather that uses byproduct stalks of pineapple plants.
The word “biodegradable” combines two important concepts: bio, which means “life,” and degradable, which means “breaking down.” It refers to living things breaking down organic materials into simple substances. This process is natural and does not cause any pollution. It occurs in the environment and is often facilitated by microbes, which break down complex chemicals into simpler ones. This process is also known as “composting.” Some products that are considered biodegradable include food waste, kitchen scraps, and paper.
Choosing a sustainable fabric made from various plants is important for clothing. Unlike synthetics, which may release harmful chemicals into the environment, these plants break down into simple compounds that don’t harm the soil or water. These fabrics can be used to make a variety of garments, including shoes, t-shirts, and sheets.
One of the most popular types of sustainable fabrics is linen. This is a natural fiber that grows quickly and does not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides. It is also highly breathable and comfortable. In addition, it is a fire-resistant fabric and does not require toxic flame retardants. It also uses fewer resources during production than conventional cotton, which requires large land areas and significant amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. It can be made into various clothing items, from shirts to pants and skirts.
Recyclable fabrics can be made from various materials, including food waste. These innovative fabrics are a great alternative to synthetic fabric that is not biodegradable and can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. Using recycled plant fiber reduces water usage, CO2 emissions and the use of toxic chemicals in the production process. Every tonne of recycled cotton saves 765,000 liters of water.
Synthetic fabrics require large amounts of energy and chemical inputs to produce. These materials are non-biodegradable and will not decompose in landfills, which causes pollution and waste. The good news is that many brands are making their garments more sustainable by introducing recyclable fabrics. For example, Patagonia and Levi’s partnered to recycle jeans at their stores.
Textile recycling is a complex and time-consuming process. First, the garments are sorted and graded to determine what can be resold or need to be recycled. Then the textiles are shredded and sent through an industrial machine to be spun into yarn. Typically, the yarn is used to make new clothing or other textile products, such as building insulation and cleaning rags.
While reusable cloth textiles have long been a strong choice for healthcare facilities due to their financial advantages, they’re backed by research that shows them to be more environmentally friendly than disposable products. In addition, reusables can reduce operational costs by eliminating the need for on-site storage. This can save money and space that can be repurposed for revenue-generating functions.
Reusable fabrics are usually made from natural and synthetic fibers. These include cotton, wool, viscose, and various blended fibers. They are also sourced through sustainable forests or have a more eco-friendly manufacturing process, such as in the case of Lyocell, Tencel, and Modal, which come from the wood pulp of sustainably harvested trees and are manufactured using much kinder chemical processes than conventional polyester.
Most studies dealing with textile reuse and recycling focus on the two most prevalent fibers, cotton and polyester. The preponderance of studies on these materials reflects their dominance in the global market for threads, with cotton taking 51% and polyester’s 24% share. These studies typically classify the recycled material as mechanical, chemical, or – less frequently – thermal, with the latter referring to a chemical recycling route in which polymers are depolymerized or dissected to monomers or oligomers and respun into new fibers.
However, this narrow focus can result in underestimating the environmental benefits of textile reuse and recycling. For instance, Muthu et al. (2015) show that focusing only on energy use and climate impact may lead to a rebound effect, as avoiding the production of virgin cotton increases other impact categories (e.g., toxicity).
Many sustainable fabrics are made from organic or recycled materials requiring significantly less chemical treatment. They also need little water and no fertilizers to grow, making them eco-friendly and environmentally safe. They also minimize waste from the textile industry, which can be a major contributor to pollution and climate change.
Sustainable fabric brands use natural fibers like hemp, organic cotton and bamboo to create products. Hemp is an extremely versatile plant that can make everything from clothing and shoes to car parts and furniture. Its natural fiber is strong and breathable, which makes it ideal for outdoor gear and apparel. It is also resistant to mildew, mold and UV rays. Hemp is also naturally environmentally friendly, and it can be grown without the use of any pesticides or synthetic chemicals.
Another sustainable fabric option is lyocell, a semi-synthetic or cellulosic fabric made from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees. This eco-friendly fabric requires fewer resources than cotton and is free from dangerous chemical treatments. It also dries quickly and is moisture-wicking, which makes it a great choice for activewear.
Other sustainable fabrics include recycled polyester, which uses repurposed plastic bottles. This innovative fabric is soft and durable, reducing landfill waste by keeping plastic out of the environment. Another new sustainable fabric is Pinatex, a plant-based alternative to leather. It is made from byproduct stalks of the abaca banana plant. It is not only animal-free, but it also helps to reforest and increase biodiversity in areas damaged by monoculture palm oil production.