7 Best Fabrics for the Environment
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Whether you’re looking to update your wardrobe, hang new curtains or put a fresh set of sheets on your bed, all of these activities require using products made of various fabrics. Some fabrics feel soft to the touch, while others can pill or snag easily.
Consider all the fabric-based household items you have for a moment. Your clothes, shoes, sheets, dusters, mops, upholstery and towels are some examples. All fabric-based items impact the environment — but how much of an impact?
7 Examples of the Best Fabrics for the Environment
While no fabrics are 100% sustainable, some materials are much better for the environment than others. Let’s discuss some examples of the most sustainable fabrics below.
Linen is a textile material that comes from the fibers of the flax plant, a flower known that grows well in Northern Europe. It’s durable, natural, absorbent and dries quickly — even faster than cotton.
Natural linen fabric production is sustainable because it uses fewer chemicals and water. Compared to other crops that produce fabrics, the flax planet requires much less water and grows without pesticides.
Around three out of five fast fashion garments enter landfills until they decompose, causing landfills to overflow. However, linen products last longer because of their durability. You can use a linen product for years without replacing it.
Wool is a protein that grows from the skin of various animals, like sheep and goats. It’s a natural, renewable source of fiber because it regrows on animals yearly after shearing.
Wool also has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapor, which makes it extremely breathable. Purchasing wool-based products is could be tricky if you’re vegan because the fibers come from animals.
Most wool products are vegetarian but not vegan-friendly. This gray area could influence a customer’s purchasing decision. Regardless, wool is a good fabric alternative compared to other fabrics that are less sustainable.
3. Organic or Recycled Cotton
Organic or recycled cotton is a sustainable product alternative to standard cotton because the methods used to produce it have a smaller impact on the environment.
Organic cotton production does not use harmful pesticides. It does not require using the dangerous chemicals needed to create standard cotton.
Recycled cotton items are even more sustainable than organic cotton products. This type of cotton comes from post-consumer and post-industrial waste and uses much less energy and water. These products are still high-quality, easy to clean and washable.
4. Organic Hemp
Organic hemp is another sustainable fabric to consider buying. It can create ropes, boat sails and clothing. It’s extremely durable, naturally insulating, keeps you cool and even offers protection from UV rays.
Hemp is a natural plant fiber and is one of the most sustainable fabrics, according to the Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres, which gave it an “A” rating.
Hemp does not require much water to grow. When spun into fabric, no harsh chemicals are needed. When manufactured organically and without chemicals, it’s a very sustainable fabric. Hemp clothing gets softer each time you wash it, adding comfort for the wearer.
5. Organic Bamboo (Bamboo Linen)
Fabrics made from bamboo, a member of the grass family with a more wood-like structure, are another example of the best fabrics for the environment. It’s possible to harvest bamboo without killing the entire plant, allowing it to renew quickly. Also, bamboo consumes more carbon dioxide than some trees.
Some manufacturers choose to implement a chemical-intensive production process when using bamboo as a fabric source. Organic bamboo in its raw form is the most sustainable, but it can be challenging to find these products.
6. Apple Leather
A relatively new type of fabric entering the scene is apple leather. Apple leather is a bio-based material made from apple scraps that would otherwise be thrown away.
Apple seeds, stalks and skins are crushed into a fine powder, which is then used to produce apple leather. Aside from being a tasty fruit, who knew that apple scraps could create leather?
One Copenhagen-based company, Beyond Leather, combines leftover scraps from apple products with natural rubber to create its plant-based leather alternative, Leap.
Another fairly new sustainable fabric is Piñatex. This fabric is similar to apple leather but is produced from parts of a pineapple that would otherwise be discarded. Piñatex is an alternative to leather and helps support local farms, too.
Piñatex is a low-impact fabric because it mostly uses leaves from the pineapple plant. Products made with this fabric are durable, water and wear-resistant.
However, Piñatex is not 100% biodegradable. According to Ananas Anam, the manufacturer of Piñatex, the product’s substrate/base material is biodegradable under specific, controlled industry conditions.
A 2022 report from First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania suggests that there’s a major disconnect between retailers and consumers regarding sustainable shopping.
The report found that consumers across all generations — Baby Boomers to Gen Z — are willing to spend more money to buy sustainable products. If you’re considering buying any products made with the fabrics listed above, keep in mind that they may be on the more expensive side.
However, the products will likely be high-quality and have a longer lifecycle than most other clothing products with synthetic fabrics, especially those produced by fast fashion brands.
Buy the Best Fabrics for the Environment to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Because several types of fabric are used in so many of the products we rely on, it’s understandable that you want to understand which materials are the most sustainable.
As mentioned above, no fabric is 100% sustainable, but that doesn’t mean you can opt for products made with one of the fabrics listed above. On your next shopping trip, consider looking for products made with sustainable fabrics to reduce your overall carbon footprint.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.