by Gaute Hellerslia August 13, 2020 3 min read
Recycled PET polyester (rPET), hemp, and linen are arguably the most eco-friendly materials for clothing. However, the truth is that we have yet to find an all-rounded 100% eco-friendly clothing material. But don't get it wrong, your choice of clothing material still matter! Below we have visualized the pros and cons for every fabric in a table, and there are clear winners and losers.
|Recycled PET polyester||Cotton||Linen||Hemp||Bamboo||Virgin polyester|
|Limited water consumption|
|Limited use of natural habitats|
Recycled polyester is made from post-consumer recycled plastic, such as water bottles. Re-purposing some of the 6 billion tons of plastic already circulating the planet is definitely a good thing, keeping it away from landfills and oceans. Recycled polyester is a wrinkle-resistant and durable fabric that dries quickly, but is obviously a synthetic material that basically never biodegrades. It's durability means it will last longer, meaning you can buy less clothes, which obviously is good for the environment.
Cotton is one of the most common fabrics used in clothing. Many people also like that it is a natural fiber that can biodegrade. However, it has a dark side. It is one of the most environmentally demanding crops there is. According to the World Health Organization, in developing countries 20,000 individuals die of cancer and miscarriages as a result of chemicals sprayed on conventional cotton. Moreover, cotton crops rely on heavy water consumption to grow. It takes about 10,000 liters of water to produce only one kilogram of cotton fabric. That’s about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person.
Linen has been around for ages, and we get why. Not only is it breathable and lightweight and looks great on a summer day, it is also a natural fiber made from flax which biodegrades. An important but underappreciated factor when evaluating eco-friendly materials for clothing is their use of natural habitats. The fact is that us humans and our livestock occupy 96 percent of all land today. We don't want really have space for acres on acres of plants for clothing production. What is good about flax is that it has the ability to grow on rough terrain that's unsuitable for food production. The best part about linen however is that it requires far less water than cotton and doesn't require any chemical pesticides.
Similarly to recycled polyester, hemp is a super durable fabric. It also actually becomes softer with washing and wear, and naturally biodegrades at the end of its life. Hemp is one of the world's fastest growing plants, and can actually produce two to three times more fiber per acre than cotton and using much less water in the process. To top it off, hemp actually replenishes the soil it grows rather than extracting its nutrients.
Bamboo is a natural fiber made from the bamboo plant, and is biodegradable. The fabric is highly durable and has a kind of silky feel to it. At first glance, bamboo seems like the perfect sustainable fabric - it requires little water and no pesticides. Unfortunately, it is not as cool and perfect as it sounds. The process of turning bamboo into fabric is incredibly chemically intensive, and creates a good amount of polluting waste.
Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is widely used in the clothing industry due to its impressive features, such as wrinkle-resistance and durability. However, it is made from petroleum aka oil, which is obviously not very eco-friendly. It also can take up to 200 years to decompose. We suggest you rather go for his sustainable brother, recycled polyester. It provides just as good quality and the same superior features, but in a sustainable way.
Regardless of fabric, make sure to take good care of your clothes so that they last longer, and you buy less. Also, when you are going to buy clothes, be conscious about its material, and buy high-quality, durable clothes that lasts. Buying clothes second-hand is also a good alternative.
PS: A common concern with all clothes is the shedding of microfibers. If you are interested in learning more about this rather complex topic, we have written a separate blog post on that issue which you can read here.
Founder of Oceanness. Enjoys the ocean, hanging out with friends, and exploring the world. Favorite ocean animal: Dolphins.
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