Eco Correct Synthetic Fabrics

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The invention of synthetic fibres, both man-made like Nylon, and those manufactured from natural wood pulp like Rayon have revolutionised the textile industry. Qualities like the water-resistance of these fibres have ensured that they have wide applicability and use. This is in spite of the fact that the hazards of the manufacture and issues with the eventual disposal of these materials are well- known.

Chemicals that are used in the manufacture of synthetics include sodium hydroxide and carbon di-sulphide. These contaminants leach into waterways and pollute the atmosphere. They also endanger the health of people that work to produce them.

The eventual disposal of these synthetics also creates a major environmental problem. They are non-biodegradable and therefore do not breakdown in the soil. The chemicals from which they are manufactured also add to the contaminant levels in the soil.

Contents

What is an Eco Correct Synthetic Fabric?

A synthetic fabric is made of material that is unavailable naturally. It is made up of many ingredients, applied in several stages. These ingredients include the fibre, colouring agents and dyes, additives and the chemicals used in the production process that remain in the fabric. If the safety and ecological sensitivity of all these stages and additions is maximised then we can safely say that the product arrived at is a sustainable, sensitive synthetic fabric.

An Eco Correct Synthetic Fabric is therefore a fibre or fabric that is not directly derived from nature. In spite of this, all of its stages of production and eventual recycling are as ecologically sensitive as possible.

How can a synthetic fabric be eco friendly?

There are three key parameters to measure the eco-friendliness of synthetic fibres.

  1. Cradle-to-cradle” life cycle: This is a Utopian situation that has not as yet been reached. It means that sensitive synthetic fibres and fabrics can be recycled in perpetuity. Petroleum based fibres like Nylon should ideally be recycled continuously and plant-based synthetics like “Modal” can be returned to the soil and become manure for a Beech tree like the one that it was originally manufactured from.
  2. Sustainable origin: The Origins of these fibres and Fabrics should be renewable. They should not have been farmed on lands where agriculture and food crops were discontinued to let fibre trees grow or should not have been developed in a factory that used chemicals that damaged the environment and its workers.
  3. “Closed loop” processes: The process of manufacture of all such ecologically sensitive synthetics, should they use toxic chemicals should form a “closed-loop” i.e. they should not spill over and damage the environment.

Categories of Eco Correct Synthetic Fibres and Fabrics

  1. Recycled plastic and synthetic fabrics: Plastic bottles are the scourge of our age and these are now being successfully turned into fleece and fabric. Marks and Spencers, the well known British store launched its range of 100% recycled polyester garments made from plastic bottles in 2007. There is a whole range of children’s schoolwear and fleece wear in this range.
  2. Synthetic Fibres of natural origin or Biopolymers These synthetic fibres are produced from natural sources like seaweed and farmed trees. They have the distinction of being bio-degradable and are made from sustainable sources. They follow a Rayon-like process. Products in this category often go by their copyrighted names like Modal (made from farmed Beech trees), Lycell(made from farmed tree pulp, Ingeo(made from genetically modified corn) and Seacell(made from sea weed). Designers are using these incredibly versatile fabrics in their collections include Linda Loudermilk, Stella McCartney, Versace and Diesel.

Problem areas with Eco-Synthetics-and some resolution

Recycled PET

The source of recycled plastic bottle fabric is by its very nature extremely environmentally unfriendly. PET is made using an antimony based catalyst which is a heavy metal known to create environmental issues and severe health problems. The recycling methodology also uses this. A solution has been found in the form of “Victor Innovatex's new Eco-Intelligent™ Polyester (co-developed with MBDC and Designtex), which uses PET fibre from a titanium-based catalyst to create a fabric that is recyclable and designed for safety during production, use, and recycling.”

Biopolymers

The production of Ingeo from corn requires the use of more energy that would be required to produce petroleum based polymers. Since most of the fuel used is fossil fuel, the process is self-defeating. In a world where many people are starving it seems almost criminal to grow corn to turn it into cloth. Since most of the corn used is genetically modified, there are serious ethical issues with this. Agricultural lands are often cleared to make way for the growing of trees for the production of polymers. This leads to a continuous shrinking of the food producing lands of the world. To resolve the issue, there is some talk that rather than replacing land, micro-organisms will become polymer factories!

Applications of Eco Correct Synthetic Fabric

  1. The fashion industry and cloth manufacturers are increasingly using these products. Designers include Linda Loudermilk, Stella McCartney and Versace.
  2. The fabrics are also being used in interior design products and fabrics. They include upholstery, drapery, panel fabrics, architectural panels, hand-tufted rugs, shades and screens.

Inspite of all these drawbacks, the development of these fibres is a step in the right direction. These products may never completely replace petroleum based synthetics, but they will certainly cut don the excessive addition of non-biodegradable substances to out eco-systems as well as provide options for their recycling.

How can I help?

  1. Chose to recycle: send plastic bottle to manufacturers of recycled fabric.
  2. Buy recycled fabric.
  3. Support the development of biopolymers over petroleum based synthetics.

External Links

  1. How Green are Green Plastics?
  2. Liquid wood, the alternative to synthetic plastics
  3. UK : M&S launches schoolwear range made from recycled plastic bottles.
  4. Women's Fashion: Eco-Friendly Fabrics no longer an aesthetic sacrifice
  5. For a diagrammatic sketch of the process of Rayon manufacture see Fibres Fron Nature.
  6. See Synthetic Materials For Eco-Effective Design.
  7. Women's Fashion: Eco-Friendly Fabrics no longer an aesthetic sacrifice


Reference

  • Synthetic Materials for Eco-Effective Designs
  • UK : M&S launches schoolwear range made from recycled plastic bottles
  • Linda Loudermilk

See Also