The environmental impact of various fabrics
What fabrics are used in making the clothes we wear, and how do they impact on the ecology?
FABRICS FROM PETROCHEMICALS (MANMADE)
Nylon and polyester
These non-biodegradable synthetics are petroleum based. The manufacturing processes of both are energy-intensive, and polyester requires large amounts of water to cool. Making Nylon, on the other hand, releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The glues used to bond the plastic coating (from petrochemicals) to the fabric backing, contain harmful solvents.
PROTEIN BASED FIBRES (NATURAL)
Wool, Silk, Leather, Fur, Milk
Deriving from animal sources, these bring moral and ethical factors into consideration.
The tanning and dying of leather pollutes water, and intensive farming practises give rise to animal rights concerns, as does the highly controversial fur trade.
The obtaining of silk involves the killing of silkworm larvae, either by boiling or gassing.
Production of wool requires arable land and sheep. Sheep create carbon dioxide and they degrade the land.
In the United Kingdom, both agricultural and craft workers have been known to suffer from exposure to the organophosphates found in sheep dip. Converting the fibre to cloth (bleaching, dyeing, and finishing) consumes energy and water, and causes pollution.
Most of the world’s wool comes from Australia’s merino sheep. This breed has a “wrinkly” skin which promotes more wool per animal, but gives rise to parasitic infections in the hot climate. To curb this, Australian farmers resort to the practise of mulesing, which involves the cutting large areas of skin from the rear of unsedated animals. PETA advocates the use of humane methods such as diet regulation, spray washing, and breeding types of sheep better suited to the Australian climate.
H&M, Perry Ellis, HUGO BOSS, Adidas, and numerous other companies have pledged to move away from mulesed wool or implemented an outright ban on wool from lambs who have been mulesed.
Organic wool, the eco-friendly option, is from sheep that have not been exposed to chemicals such as pesticides and are kept in humane and good farm conditions. Scouring, spinning and dyeing processes are also taken into account when certifying yarn as organic.
Proteins from skimmed milk are spun by means of a bio-engineering technique to create a synthetic fabric. Milk fibre fabric is not very durable and wrinkles easily, but has a pH similar to human skin and possesses anti-bacterial properties. It is highly eco-friendly, being both biodegradable and a renewable resource. It also dyes easily.
This brings us to fabrics from cellulose fibres (plant materials), which we will examine in the next blog.
Challa, L. (n.d.).Impact of textles and clothing industry on environment: approach towards eco-friendly
textiles. Fibre to Fashion. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/textile-industry-articles/impact-of-textiles-and-clothing-industry-on-environment/impact-of-textiles-and-clothing-industry-on-environment1.asp
Mulesing by the wool industry. (n.d.) Retrieved March 21, 2012 from
What is organic wool? (2008, January 25). [Web log message]. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from
Joel. (November 13, 2008). Life cycle of the silkworm