If I were to tell you that cotton was the world’s most popular plant fiber, you’d easily believe it. But what if I told you that the second most popular- second only to cotton– was jute? You’d probably find it incredibly surprising. Not only because you suspected it to be something else, but because you really have no idea what jute is!
Jute, for those of you who are wondering, is a plant fiber best known for its use in burlap and hessian cloth. Grown predominantly in Bangladesh and India, it has properties that make it part textile, and part wood. Jute’s long fibers are harvested from the skin and stem of the plant before being spun into threads for practical use. In addition to being highly durable and inexpensive, jute is considered an environmentally friendly material, for several reasons:
- Jute reaches maturation in as little as 4-6 months, making it a highly efficient source of renewable materials
- Seeds are sewn by hand, and plants are grown using few to no pesticides or herbicides
- It grows in tropical areas, relying on natural rainfall rather than extensive irrigation systems
- Jute cultivation enhances soil fertility for future crops
- It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen at a rate several times higher than trees
- Traditional, manual methods are still used to extract fibres from the vast majority of jute crops, so production does not rely heavily on unsustainable energy resources
- Jute is completely biodegradable and recyclable
Given the extensive list of positives, you’re probably wondering why you haven’t been hearing more about jute. It does have some limitations, mostly due to the fact that it’s stiffer and more brittle than other fabrics. Another reason is that the increasing popularity of synthetic fibres since the 1950s saw a rapid decline in the production and sales of jute. Now, as the environmental problems associated with the production of many synthetic materials have become apparent, we are beginning to experience a shift in the opposite direction. Consumer interest in products made from sustainable and recyclable materials is growing, and jute- with its many environmental benefits- is gaining renewed interest as a result. People are discovering that its uses extend far beyond carpet bedding and burlap sacks- just see for yourself!
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