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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, and consuming with a conscience

Fabrics and Fibres You Should be Avoiding



We all know by now that fast fashion is causing a crisis on our planet. We're buying and consuming more than ever before and it's having a detrimental impact. Women's wardrobes in particular have doubled in size but we're only wearing everything half as long with 80% of our clothing ending up in landfill (clothing that isn't biodegradable!). Even when clothing is given to services to be recycled, only around 1% of the fibres can be broken down and reused. With that in mind, something I've become more conscious of over the last few months is homing clothing pieces that are made of good materials that haven't put too much of a strain on our planet to be created and that will also degrade when they eventually reach the end of their cycle with me or whoever I pass those items on to.

Why natural vs. synthetic fibres are important
Only 2% of the textiles produced and sold worldwide are made of natural fibres such as linen, tencel, hemp etc. and that is pretty alarming. Although this is going up over time due to us taking more ethical and sustainable steps within our consumerism, we've still got a long way to go.

I've talked about natural vs. synthetic fibres before but the basics are this: natural fibres are typically less agriculturally intensive, they don't release micro-plastics when they're washed, they produce items which are more comfortable and breathable, and they biodegrade in a much shorter time than their synthetic counterparts (also without releasing toxins of any kind when doing so). Natural fibres help create a natural circular economy because they come from nature and go back to nature which is of course, the best scenario for our planet.

So... what fabrics and fibres should we be avoiding?



POLYESTER
Girrrl, this is the worst of the worst. Polyester is the most unsustainable fibre because it starts it's life in an oil rig as it requires crude oil/petroleum to be made and therefore is using a fossil fuel. It takes the same weight of oil to make the same weight of polyester clothing - e.g. 1kg of oil will make roughly 1kg of fabric. This is so incredibly damaging to our environment in a multitude of ways, particularly when it's estimated that 70 million barrels of oil go towards fast fashion every year! It is also a very water-intensive production process which can lead to contamination.

Polyester is incredibly popular in fast fashion because it's built to not last. As it's low quality, 100% polyester items won't last you a long time so they're perfect for brands who want you to constantly spend money with them. Although they won't last you forever, they unfortunately will stick around on our planet for the foreseeable because they are basically wearable plastic bottles.

Scientists claim that it will last pretty much for forever as it is basically plastic and petroleum and therefore is not biodegradable. Not only that but, each time you wash and wear polyester, it sheds micro-plastics into our atmosphere and water systems which then ends up in our food chain.

It can be recycled but as with all recyclable plastics, it is simply turn into a lesser form of plastic which isn't really sustainable or a good option. It's the all-round bad guy and if you can avoid it, definitely do.



SYNTHETIC BLENDS
Synthetic blends are very similar to polyester in how they are produced and are often a material that has some polyester mixed in it. As these blends are exactly that - blends - they can't be recycled properly because they can't be separated again (imagine us trying to separate milk and sugar from a cup of tea with our hands; it's just not possible!).

Often synthetic blends aren't labelled as that and are instead labelled as percentages of the items makeup, so it's worth getting to know what your synthetic materials are so you can identify them when shopping (e.g. 40% polyester, 50% nylon, 10% acrylic.)

ACRYLIC
Acrylic tends to rear it's ugly head during the colder months as it's often used in knitwear. Not only is it incredibly uncomfortable to wear and doesn't really let your skin breathe, it is carcinogenic and can attack our nervous systems by being absorbed through our skin when wearing the fabric or by being inhaled. It's bad for us as consumers to wear but it's 100 times worse for the individuals creating acrylic items in factories. Manufacturing it is involves highly toxic substances which is detrimental to both factory workers and also our environment.

It's not easily recyclable or biodegradable making it a bad choice all-round.

PVC
Ahh, how many brands have you seen release vinyl skirts over the last couple of years? How many lingerie brands have PVC options that are meant to bring a bit of kink into your life? Well, I'm here to spoil your fun because PVC is the devil. It is not biodegradable and when it does break down, it simply breaks down into smaller particles of itself.

Just like Polyester, PVC is made from petroleum and therefore is contributing to fossil fuel usage too and similar to acrylic, it is carcinogenic, exposes garment workers to toxic chemicals during item production, and it also releases toxins into our environment.



NYLON
Yet another fibre made from petroleum, Nylon is another bad egg. Producing Nylon is a very chemical intensive process which produces nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide) but unfortunately, due to its durability and ability to be moulded into shape, it is commonly used in the fashion industry and you'll be most familiar with seeing it in your tights/stockings.

Not only does it emit a terrible greenhouse gas, but it is water-intensive to produce Nylon - which can lead to contamination and pollution much like Polyester - and it is also takes a lot of energy during it's manufacturing process too; meaning it contributes to global warming.

RAYON/VISCOSE/MODAL
Okay, Rayon is one of those fibres that on first glance seems to be eco-friendly because it's made from plants but due to the toxicity of it's manufacturing process and the deforestation it leaves in its wake, it's actually pretty darn bad for our planet.

Viscose is the same thing as Rayon and Modal or "Modal Blends" on your clothing tags are also a type of Rayon (Modal is less toxic however, deforestation is still a huge impact on our planet when creating this material). Viscose is believed to be the third most commonly used fibre in the world which, considering the reasons I'm going to list, should be pretty alarming when taking into consideration the impact it has on our planet.

So although the raw crop is biodegradable (Viscose is usually derived from bamboo, eucalyptus, sugar cane etc. and Modal from softwood trees such as pine and beech), the chemicals used to change it into a fabric are toxic. These chemicals include carbon disulphide which can cause serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, birth defects and Parkinson's disease for factory workers who are in constant contact with it during it's production but also those who live close to those factories producing it too.

The deforestation caused by the growth of the raw crop is also obviously detrimental to our planet, people, and animals. The destruction of rain forests in areas such as Indonesia, India, and China are made regularly in order to make space for pulpwood plantations to create Rayon, Viscose, and Modal.

It's estimated that 30% of Rayon/Viscose/Modal is sourced from endangered and/or ancient forests worldwide and when we consider the fact that around 70% of the trees harvested for the pulp are wasted, it just hardly seems worth it. Due to the creation of these plantation to meet fast fashion demands, it means we are destroying wildlife habitats, altering ecosystems, and land-grabbing from indigenous people.

Unlike many of the other fibres discussed in this post, Rayon - of all types - is considered biodegradable but due to the many different manufacturing processes used to create it, (most of which using polluting chemicals we've talked about), it's not considered to be eco-friendly.



Of course, it is sometimes impossible to avoid these fibres listed as they may be the only option for particular items you need and just like me, they might be in your wardrobe already. When you buy anything new, it's worth knowing what fibres do what to our planet, our oceans, and even to our skin so that you can make reasonable decisions about your purchasing choices. I try my best to only buy natural, organic, fairtrade etc. fibres brand new now but if I'm buying secondhand, often it is fast fashion items that are made of those things listed above. The best thing to do in that scenario is to invest in a Guppy Friend for the washing machine, take good care of those items, and hand them to others when you're finished with them so they can continue to be used and not end up in landfill!


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1 comment

A Cup of Wonderland said...

This post is so provoking and enlightening - I am not a huge clothes shopper but know I need to consider recycling/giving away some clothes to charity shops and work on buying things second hand instead of supporting fast fashion right now. Thank you for this post because it was super informative.

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