Most Eco Friendly, Sustainable & Animal Friendly Fibres & Fabrics

We’ve already put together a list of what might be some of the least eco friendly, sustainable and animal friendly fibres and fabrics.

In this guide, we list what might be some of the most eco friendly, sustainable & animal friendly fibres & fabrics.

 

Summary – Most Eco Friendly, Sustainable & Animal Friendly Fibres & Fabrics

Some of the fibres and fabrics listed below are:

Second hand fibres and fabrics

Natural fibres, and some regenerated fibres

Certified organic cotton

TENCEL (lyocell, modal, and some other fibres)

100% natural or organic linen/flax (especially if it’s hand made or mechanically processed)

Organic bamboo, and bamboo that uses closed loop processing

Hemp

Jute

Animal friendly fibres (like peace silk for example)

Some recycled fibres and fabrics

 

Major parts of how eco friendly or sustainable a fibre or fabric might can depend on:

How it’s grown or sourced – whether it comes from a natural source, how efficiently it uses inputs and resources (water, land, agricultural chemicals and inputs)

How it’s processed/produced – the chemicals it uses (naturally derived or not) for dissolving pulp, dying, bleaching, finishing and so on. And whether closed loop processing is used or not (capturing and treating or re-using waste water and chemicals)

How yarn is weaved (for example, some companies only provide a patented fibre, and that fibre is weaved by other parties)

Energy, water and resources used to maintain and upkeep the fabric, and how long it lasts for

How eco friendly the waste/recycling process is

 

Read more about some of the factors that can contribute to how sustainable, eco friendly and animal friendly different fibres and fabrics can be in this guide.

 

Second Hand Or Pre-Used Fibres & Fabrics

Obviously, if you are able to buy or find secondhand fibres, fabrics and products that are still in good condition and are still usable, this can be a more eco friendly and sustainable alternative than a newly produced fibre or fabric (which requires new resources to grow, and/or produce).

 

Natural Fibres, & Some Regenerated Fibres

There’s three main types of fibres used for textiles – natural, regenerated, and synthetic.

Of these, natural fibres and some regenerated fibres tend to win out in several major eco friendly measurements and indicators.

For example, as noted by Oecotextiles, natural fibres tend to outperform synthetic fibres across embodied energy use, and carbon emission indicators/measures. 

Lyocell is one example of a regenerated fibre that can be more eco friendly if the production process uses a closed loop process (treating wastewater, and capturing and re-using chemicals.

 

Certified Organic Cotton

Summary

Organic cotton is a natural and renewable fibre

Organic cotton places an emphasis on the use of naturally derived farming chemicals and sustainable farming methods (organic farming, rain fed cotton, etc) over synthetic chemicals and intensive farming. It also uses natural cotton seeds over GMO cotton seeds

There’s also an emphasis on naturally derived production and processing chemicals

A GOTS standard certified piece of organic cotton fibre and fabric might generally be fairly eco friendly, sustainable and ethical – one of the most ethical fibres and fabrics available. It has eco, quality and fair work standards as part of it’s criteria

One of the issues with organic cotton is that some people point out the yield and profits may not be as good for farmers as GMO cotton (so sustainability can suffer, and viability). Because of lower yields for the same amount of resources, there are sustainability cons. Also, this means cotton uses more land than some other eco friendly fibres. There’s also other potential drawbacks to organic cotton and organic farming to consider, with one being that not all naturally derived pesticides and other chemicals might be safe or any better than synthetic chemicals

 

Growing Stage

Cotton in a natural fibre/plant – cotton creates a natural carbon sink

Organic pest control (like beneficial insects) and fertilizers (like manure) are used over synthetic chemicals

Organic farming methods are used over intensive methods, or over irrigated water (which uses up freshwater resources that can be used for drinking water or residential water)

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Naturally derived chemicals might be used over synthetic chemicals where possible 

There might be closed loop processing, or capture and treatment of waste wate and chemicals where possible – so there is less wastage of water, and less environmental pollution

 

Read more about organic cotton and how sustainable and eco friendly it might be in this guide.

 

TENCEL (Lyocell, Modal & Some Other Fibres)

Summary

Lyocell is a regenerated fibre (comes from a natural cellulose source, but is usually chemically processed)

It is a natural and renewable fibre to grow

Lenzing/TENCEL is the main producer of Lyocell fibres

Lenzing owns TENCEL, and has it’s own trademarked version of Lyocell and Modal fibres (Lenzing also has other fibre ranges and technology)

TENCEL is generally regarded as quite eco friendly, sustainably and ethical because they both source sustainable/renewable wood (in the growing phase), and they use closed loop processing in the production phase to treat wastewater and re-use chemicals

TENCEL also has a list of certifications that focus on sustainability

TENCEL is currently not produced in anywhere near the quantity cotton is – cotton production dwarfs TENCEL production. Scaling may be an issue for TENCEL

 

Growing Stage

Generally sourced from sustainable wood sources such as beech wood, eucalyptus etc.

These wood sources are renewable, create a carbon sink, and generally don’t need a heap of irrigated water, or many pesticides and fertilizer

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Might use a different fibre spinning method than other fibres

Generally uses a closed loop chemical process to treat wastewater, capture chemicals, and re-use them

Lyocell might use a different solvent or chemical process in the production phase to most other rayon/viscose fibres 

TENCEL have their own processing/production processes

 

Something to note about TENCEL though is that you do have to check how it is weaved (and the impact of weaving) – weaving can be done separately to the production of the fibre.

Read more about Lyocell, TENCEL and modal, and how sustainable they might be in this guide.

 

Linen/Flax

Summary

A natural fibre that is natural and renewable fibre

Generally fairly eco friendly and sustainable – compared to conventional cotton

The growing process is usually quite eco friendly

How eco friendly it ends up being depends on how it is retted and processed

 

Growing Stage

Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant (natural plants that can create a carbon sink)

Flax generally needs much less water, and fertilizer and pesticide than conventional cotton

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Mechanical retting is better for the environment and sustainability – but takes longer and isn’t as cost effective

Chemical retting is less environmentally friendly, but faster and cheaper

Some linen undergoes heavy bleaching to make it whiter

Other production chemicals can be used with linen as well – which usually aren’t treated or captured before being dumped

The best quality linens are usually hand and/or machine retted

 

Read more about how sustainable linen/flax might be in this guide.

 

Organic Linen/Flax

Summary

A special type of linen that is quite rare – quite eco friendly and sustainable

More expensive because it takes more effort and time to grow and produce

Similar to organic cotton – uses natural or mechanical processes, instead of intensive processed or highly synthetic chemicals

Need to look for some type of guarantee of what you are getting when you get organic linen (look for a certification, or guarantee from the seller)

 

Growing Stage

Grown with organic methods, and organic fibre is supplied for yarn

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Mechanical retting of flax plant

Focus on more organic processing methods

 

Bamboo

Summary

The bamboo plant is obviously a natural source of cellulose and bamboo is renewable

Growing bamboo is generally very eco friendly and sustainable (although there can be some land degradation and deforestation issues raised, and there’s an argument that more chemicals are being used as well as agricultural land as demand increases)

Generally, production of bamboo rayon tends to use heavy chemicals to dissolve bamboo pulp and extrude the short bamboo fibres. These chemicals can be exposed to production workers, and may also be dumped into the environment via waste water 

Much of the bamboo grown and produced comes out of China, and it can be hard to track and find out about bamboo production there – so there can be some uncertainty with how eco friendly and sustainable this bamboo actually is

Some companies and factories do use a cleaner bamboo production process – but this is hard to track, or certify

There is work being done to make bamboo production more eco friendly on the whole, and to make bamboo production cleaner

 

Growing Stage

Bamboo is great to grow – it usually grows very quick, has good yields, needs little pesticide or fertilizer, can be rain fed with water, and doesn’t need to have it’s roots removed from the ground

It also produces a carbon sink

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

This is the less eco friendly and less sustainable part of making bamboo fibres and fabrics

Bamboo production generally involves harmful or toxic chemicals to extract bamboo fibres (which are short) and turn them into a bamboo rayon/viscose

 

Read more about how sustainable bamboo might be in this guide.

 

Organic Bamboo

Summary

Certification for organic bamboo does not officially exist yet (GOTS doesn’t make bamboo eligible yet for certification) – so be wary of products being claimed as organic bamboo

An informal classification of organic bamboo might include FSC certified and sourced bamboo material, and a process that either uses naturally derived chemicals, or uses some form of a closed loop process to capture chemicals and waste water

 

Growing Stage

FSC certification makes sure that the growing of bamboo is done responsibly in bamboo forests

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Production is much cleaner, has less wastage of water, and chemicals aren’t dumped straight into the environment. Some bamboo sellers might say their product uses a type of closed loop system similar to lyocell

 

Hemp

Summary

Hemp is a natural fibre from the Cannabis sativa plant, and is renewable

It is extremely eco friendly to grow, although it can grow like a weed and dominate other plants in the area

There are currently issues with growing hemp in the US commercially – as of 2019 – those issues are still being worked out and policies finalised

As a fabric, hemp can look a bit ‘hippy’, so it may need to be blended with other fibres like cotton for a different look or qualities

 

Growing Stage

Hemp is fantastic to grow – it has good yields, uses less land than cotton, replenishes soil, is better with water than cotton, and doesn’t need much pesticide or fertilizer

Retting of the hemp fibre from the plant can be time consuming – hemp retting can make hemp more costly than cotton to produce. Although hemp decoritators are making that easier, and other technology

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Hemp production can involve the significant use of water, and synthetic production chemicals

Like bamboo production, hemp production usually isn’t as sustainable as the growing stage

 

Read more about how sustainable Hemp might be in this guide.

 

Jute

Summary

Jute comes from usually the white jute plant – which is renewable

Jute has limited use in fashion and clothing

It is more for twine, ropes, packaging and industrial purposes

Jute can be used for bags, rugs and other clothing and home items

 

Growing Stage

Jute is very eco friendly and sustainable to grow – and, it is mostly grown in Indian and Asian countries

 

Processing/Manufacturing Stage

Jute usually needs little processing when used for industrial purposes

 

Read more about how sustainable Jute might be in this guide.

 

Animal Friendly Fibres

Most of the above fibres are animal friendly (you do have to consider though how many animals might be killed or impacted by pesticides, fertilizers, and production chemicals entering the environment such as aquatic environments).

Wool, leather, fur, angora, silk and down can all have their animal cruelty or ‘animal use for products’ issues. 

More animal friendly alternatives might include peace silk, and other types of silk like Art silk and spider silk. Also, there’s organic wool, faux leather, and faux fur as a few more examples.

But, even faux leather and faux fur have their drawbacks coming from synthetic feedstocks.

Read more in these guides about animal cruelty issues with fibres and fabrics:

 

Some Notes On The Above Fibres & Fabrics

Most natural fibres are biodegradable by themselves, but you have to consider whether other materials are mixed with them and whether they’ve been treated with chemicals

Each fibre and fabric needs to be assessed separately and differently. Some supply chains are clear, and others aren’t. Not all growers are the same. Not all fibre to yarn processes are the same. Not all yarn to fabric processes are the same. Not all suppliers, manufacturers and sellers are the same.

Certifications can help with determining what exactly you are buying e.g. GOTS for organic cotton, or FSC certification for bamboo forests.

Second to certifications, you can research a specific company to see where they grow their fibres (or source supply from), and how fibres are manufactured into yarns and fabrics (but note that this is not a perfect solution as some companies don’t know exactly that information accurately)

Fibres can be combined/blended together e.g. 50% cotton/50% hemp – so in that instance you’ll get the pros and cons of each individual fibre

Technology, processes, methods and other factors may change how eco friendly certain fibres and fabrics become over time

 

Are Recycled Fibres & Fabrics Eco Friendly & Sustainable?

In some ways they might be, but in other ways they might not be.

For example, GOTS Organic Fairtrade, and recycled cotton might be two of the most eco friendly fibres when comparing cotton, bamboo and different rayons for indicators such as water use, chemicals, global warming and natural resources depletion

But, some of the problems with recycling fibres and fabrics themselves in the conventional way might be:

  • Recycling still takes energy and resources
  • It likely isn’t economically viable in some cases – certain materials like rare/valuable metals might be the only materials that are viable to recycle

Fabrics made from recycled materials might be different – such as polyester made from recycled plastic bottles. 

Each fabric is different though (and would need to be assessed differently) – it depends on how it’s recycled and produced, and what the impact of that is.

 

Sources

1. https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/estimating-the-carbon-footprint-of-a-fabric/  

2. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-organic-cotton-sustainable-eco-friendly-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/ 

3. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-hemp-sustainable-eco-friendly-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/

4. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-bamboo-eco-friendly-sustainable-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/are-lyocell-tencel-eco-friendly-sustainable-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/

6. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-linen-flax-eco-friendly-sustainable-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/

7. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-jute-eco-friendly-sustainable-for-fibre-textiles-products/

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