Jute is seen as one of the more eco friendly fibres available.
But, is it really? Or, is it just a reputation it has been given?
In this short guide, we look at how jute rates amongst different measures to see how sustainable and eco friendly it really is.
Firstly, What Is Jute?
Jute is a natural fibre usually. extracted from the bark of the white jute plant.
You can read more about what Jute is in this guide.
Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Is Jute For Fibre, Textiles & Products?
The growing and production process of jute seems very eco friendly and sustainable compared to other fibres like conventional cotton for example.
It’s mostly rain fed (leaving a small water footprint), and uses few toxic chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers, processing chemicals, dyes and bleaches.
The downsides to jute are that it can’t be used for clothing as much as other fibres (it’s more for ropes, sacks, and other products), there are synthetic materials available for some of it’s uses (such as plastic), and growth and production is mostly limited to a handful of countries.
So to an industry like the fashion industry for example, cotton, bamboo, TENCEL, hemp and other fibres might be more appealing and as having wider range of use because of their qualities and features.
But, other industrial industries may find good use for it as an eco friendly option.
It’s worth noting jute is fairly water hungry, but it isn’t highly irrigated with freshwater resources (it uses sustainable rainfall instead).
Apart from jute, some sources indicate that for overall sustainability, it might be worth looking at GOTS certified cotton, recycled cotton, 100% natural linen, and companies that are very transparent with their supply and production processes, or have a range of recognized sustainability certifications across various stages of their supply/production process (growing, production, dying, bleaching, finishing, weaving, and so on), with TENCEL’s lyocell and modal fibres being one potential example of this. But, there’s also the consumer usage, maintenance and waste/recycling stages to consider as well. Some bamboos and hemps could be reasonably sustainable when sustainably/responsibly grown, and combining that with closed loop processes, naturally derived production chemicals, and similarly more natural/organic and eco friendly post-growing processes and chemicals used.
Some other points to consider about jute are:
- Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibres and considered second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses
- In general, jute requires specific conditions to grow – usually tropical rainfall, warm weather and high humidity
- Jute requires a significant amount of water – this is why it’s grown in places with monsoon seasons like India and Bangladesh. But, jute also can use irrigated water
- If jute is mostly rainfed, it’s water footprint is much more sustainable
- About 85% of Jute crops are rainfed crops in India
- It has a low carbon footprint because of it’s carbon storing properties (some studies show it’s even better than trees at assimilation CO2), and the jute plant is also good as releasing oxygen
- Jute uses little synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and decomposed farm yard manure can even be used during last ploughing
- Jute is generally good for soil health when leaves drop and help create organic matter and nutrients in the soil, and jute can be rotated with other food crops
- It may also make use of land with poor soils, and doesn’t necessarily need high quality cropland to grow
- The yield of jute according to one source is 4 times that of flax per acre
- The production process for jute, using water soaking to prepare the bundles and stalk for stripping, might be more eco friendly than other processes for other fibres
- Socially – jute provides a livelihood for millions of farmers worldwide
- Jute is a 100% biodegradable and recyclable material in it’s natural form
The above summary and the information found in this guide is a generalisation only.
* Note that jute growing/farming, and processing may differ by country, especially between the first world and developing world countries.
* Different conditions, climates, soils, farming technology, farming methods and other factors can impact how well the jute fibre grows, and different factories and processing plants for jute have different procedures.
These factors and others can impact the final sustainability and eco friendliness of any particular product.
There’s also the social impact, economics and practicality to consider. Just because something is eco friendly and sustainable to produce – it doesn’t mean that it is good for employment, profitable or even practical to produce (for businesses and workers) or use (for consumers). So, there can be a weighing up of product priorities, preferences (for buyers, sellers, and society) and conflicts of interest to consider (political and corporate agendas can sometimes play a part too for example).
How Much Water Does Jute Use For Growing & Manufacturing/Processing?
- Jute does require a lot of water … so it’s most prevalent in locales with monsoon seasons such as India and Bangladesh.
- Jute is a rain-fed crop [meaning less irrigated water from freshwater sources are used]
- Jute needs tropical rainfall, warm weather and high humidity [to grow]
- Jute crop requires 500 mm of water. First irrigation is to be given after sowing and life irrigation on fourth day after sowing. Afterwards irrigation can be given once in 15 days.
Jute has a low water footprint because it is mostly rain fed.
Carbon Footprint Of Jute, & Energy Use
- The carbon footprint is low
- Jute is a fast growing field crop with high carbon dioxide (CO2) assimilation rate.
- Jute plants clean the air by consuming large quantities of CO2, which is the main cause of the greenhouse effect.
- One hectare of jute plants can consume about 15 tons of CO2 from atmosphere and release about 11 tons of oxygen in the 100 days of the jute-growing season.
- Studies also show that the CO2 assimilation rate of jute is several times higher than trees. (Inagaki, 2000)
How Much Pesticide & Fertilizer Does It Take To Grow Jute
- Jute [has] little need for fertilizer or pesticides.
- Jute growers use fairly small amount of chemical fertilisers and herbicides – 20 kg per ha each of N, P2O5 and K2O are to be applied basally.
- Five tonnes of well decomposed farm yard manure [can] be applied during last ploughing
Jute, & Soil Health & Land Degradation
- Jute cropping system enhances soil organic matter through leaf shedding during the growing season and improves nutrient availability in the soil.
- Jute is commonly rotated with other food crops like rice and other cereals, vegetables, oilseeds or pulses, all of which are moderately or heavy feeders of nutrients from the native source, but do not normally return them to soil, except in case of legumes, as jute does.
- Jute-based multiple cropping thus not only increases agricultural production, but may also sustain the fertility level of soil mainly through leaf fall and organic waste decomposition under jute, if the inputs throughout the rotation are used judiciously.
- [jute] can be grown on waste land, including tidal areas and alkaline soils.
- multiple seasons of jute growth can rehabilitate waste land, allowing it to be used for other crops including rice.
The Yield Of Jute, & Efficiency To Process Jute
- Yields are about 2 tonnes of dry jute fibre per hectare
- Green plant weight yield is 45 to 50 tonnes per hectare
- Fibre yield is 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
- On average, jute yields four times more fibre per acre than flax.
- Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibres and considered second only to cotton in amount produced and variety of uses of vegetable fibres.
- About 85% of Jute crops are rainfed crops in India
- The average fibre yields are low at 22 to 23 q/ha
- Yields can vary with erratic rainfall distribution, and poor agronomic management practices
- Jute plant fibers are quick and cheap to grow [making them efficient overall to make and sell]
- the [jute] growth cycle is very short, typically 4-6 months
How Effectively Is The Jute Plant Used?
- Jute yields 5 -10 MT of dry matter per acre of land.
- About 1 MT of dry matter is put back to the soil in the form of leaves.
- About 3 MT of roots remain in the soil.
How Many Chemicals Does Jute Use In The Processing Stage?
- The fibres lie beneath the bark around the woody core or ‘hurd’.
- To extract the fibre, the jute bundles are submerged in water and left for a few days until the fibres come loose and are ready for stripping from the stalk, then washed and dried.
- The environmental impacts of jute production are much less harmful as compared to the production of synthetic fibers.
Pollution Of Land, Air & Water By Jute Growing & Processing
Probably not as much as regular cotton.
Fewer pesticides, fertilizers, processing chemicals, bleaches and dyes are used.
This means less water waste, and less toxic chemicals getting/leaching/being discharged into the water, soil and air.
Impact Of Jute On Humans & Human Health
- jute fibre are used worldwide in sackcloth – and help sustain the livelihoods of millions of small farmers.
Because few pesticides are used to grow jute – jute is better for the health of jute farm workers compared to say regular cotton farm workers – because there is less exposure to breathe pesticides in from the air or have it come into contact with the skin.
Impact Of Jute On Wildlife & Animals
Probably lesser than regular cotton – due to less toxic chemicals being used in the growing and processing stages.
Biodegradability Of Jute
Jute fibre is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable [as long as it is not combined with other fibres or grown or processed with toxic chemicals]