In the past, consumer goods such as bathroom and bed linen, clothing, and outdoor apparel were designed and manufactured to last, with both consumers and suppliers leaning towards quality rather than quantity. The trend now, for the most part, is to mass produce and consume items that will be disposed of in a matter of months and not years, providing yet another example of unsustainable consumerism.
There are certain materials which are known to be environmentally unfriendly and unethical, such as fur and leather and these should be avoided at all costs. Then there are the fabrics flooding the market which, although inexpensive and sometimes considered “natural” (i.e. cotton), cause a lot of harm to both the environment and workers.
The world is starting to wake up to the idea that there is a greater cost than what is on the price tag, and so some suppliers are increasingly using renewable, sustainable, and even recycled fabrics.With the selection of consumer goods produced from these materials flourishing, One Green Planet wants to wave the eco-friendly flag on behalf of a few options.
Bamboo is renowned for being one of the most eco-friendly materials on the market. It is a fast-growing grass which can be harvested after 2 or 3 years, doesn’t need to be replanted, improves the soil quality, and can be grown without fertilisers or pesticides. The fabric bamboo grass produces is soft, therefore perfect for baby clothing, bed linen, and towels. It is also moisture absorbent, hypoallergenic, and anti-bacterial.
There has been some concern over the manufacturing process as a few methods use chemicals to cook the leaves and shoots – in addition to which formaldehyde-based glue is sometimes used to bind strips of bamboo together – but there are newer methods which produce organic bamboo fabrics without chemicals altogether.
(FAIR TRADE AND ORGANIC) COTTON
While touted as a “natural” material, conventional cotton is one of the most chemical-laden crops grown in the world. The industrial process is both insecticide- and pesticide-heavy which affects the health of workers, as well as polluting the ground and water supply. Furthermore, formaldehyde is used in the manufacturing process to prevent cotton from creasing, which is a known carcinogen and believed to affect the end consumer due to residue on and within the fibres.
On the other hand, organic cotton is grown without the use of chemicals or GMOs. It is extremely labor-intensive, however, and so the organic cotton selected should be labeled as fair-trade to ensure workers aren’t being exploited. Products which come in cotton’s natural colours (cream; light brown; and pale green) or have been dyed using natural and/or vegetable-based dyes are preferable. Cotton is used in many items, such as baby blankets, reusable grocery bags, and towels.
Much like bamboo, hemp is seen as one of the most eco-friendly materials. It is a high-yield crop, improves the soil quality, and can be grown without herbicides or pesticides. It is also extremely versatile as the fabric it produces can be durable and strong – therefore suitable for backpacks – or soft and supple – ideal for clothing. It too is believed to be anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic. In addition, the manufacturing process is straight-forward and requires no chemicals or high-tech machinery.
The only downside to hemp production is the cross-over with marijuana, also produced from the hemp plant. While in the United States it cannot be grown, it is produced in Asia, Europe, and soon Canada too.
The soybean has many uses: beverages, food and oil. Few will know, however, that the hulls of soybeans can be used to make a fabric. Despite minimising waste from the food industry, the bigger picture isn’t always as promising, with soybean agriculture a contentious issue. Further to this, the process by which the hulls are turned into soy fabric does make use of some chemicals, and although a “closed-loop” system (chemicals are reused and not disposed of) workers are still exposed to these.
To minimise harm to the environment and workers, always source soy products that have an organic certification. As for the fabric itself, it isn’t as strong as (organic) cotton or hemp, but is antibacterial; biodegradable; light and soft, making it ideal for underwear.
RECYCLED OR UPCYCLED MATERIALS
While there are several natural fabrics on the market, using recycled materials is an excellent eco-friendly option. By re-using existing fabrics and fibres this minimises waste, extending the life of the material and preventing it from going into landfills. This reduces the need for more raw materials, thereby reducing energy consumption and pollution caused during manufacturing processes (such as greenhouse gases).
These days, fabrics and materials made from recycled items are becoming more commonplace and are used to manufacture all kinds of consumer goods. Various bags, for example, have been made from recycled bike tires, billboards, and plastic bottles. There are also suppliers who use fabric waste generated during the manufacturing process of another product, or material that had been labelled unusable.
– products which are legitimately eco-friendly carry independent certifications or ‘eco-labels’ from third-party certification bodies, such as Demeter, Eco-Cert, ECO-INSTITUT, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex, or the Soil Association (for example).
– if an item is made from a blend of fabrics, ensure that it is blended with another eco-friendly fabric and not conventional cotton or a synthetic fibre.
– when buying clothing, select items that are hand- or machine-washable, avoiding the chemicals associated with dry-cleaning.