As consumers, we can easily be misled into believing certain purchases are better for the Planet. The word ‘natural’ is easily thrown around and items labelled ‘natural’ are simply portrayed as just that… but what do we really consider as being ‘natural’?
Many natural fibres are not as they seem. Although they are plant based, some ‘natural’ fibres are not grown organically, they are processed with added synthetics and manufactured in non-environmentally conscious ways.
Here are some cleared misconceptions about ‘natural’ fibres:
|Cotton||Non-organic cotton requires many harmful chemicals and pesticides that cause cancer, tumours and birth defects. It also requires added synthetics to remain high in quality and prevent shrinkage.||NOT NATURAL|
|Bamboo||Just like rayon (a synthetic fibre), bamboo fibre is made of wood pulp and requires very toxic chemicals in the processing.||NOT NATURAL|
|Wool||Depending on the conditions in which sheep are grazing, the manufacturing of wool can also be a question of ethics. Often, wool requires a multi step process of added chemicals: sheep are dipped into pesticides, the fleece is washed in petroleum-based detergents, the yarn is bleached with chlorine and dyed with heavy metal-based dyes. Obviously workers are also exposed to these chemicals and can suffer neurological damage.||NOT NATURAL|
|Hemp||Hemp is a low THC plant from the cannabis family whereby the stalks are used to make fibres. It requires no pesticides and actually fertilises itself. It does not damage the soil in which it grows, allowing multiple consecutive harvests and does not require as much water to grow. Hemp plants act much like trees; absorbing carbon dioxide and providing oxygen. Hemp is highly sustainable but is often a question of legality in many countries. Also see —||NATURAL|
|Linen||Linen fibre is made from the stalk of flax plants. Similar to hemp, it is strong and durable. It is fairly easy to grow and does not require as much water but for high quality linen, the flax stalks must be manually and laboriously pulled from the ground. It does not require added chemicals or synthetics but is not as resistant to weeds and is therefore not organic if sprayed with herbicides.||NATURAL|
As you can see, deeming particular natural fibres as the better option can be more complex. We also need to consider the ethics, sustainability and eco-friendliness. All three aspects then need to be considered from the planting of the seed through the growth, harvesting, manufacturing (into yarn and then into items) to selling and consuming.
It can sometimes be difficult, being a consumer who wants to make conscious decisions. However, the best advice is to keep learning and educating ourselves. Although we may not have all the answers, constantly educating ourselves to make our own choices (that is, not influenced by capitalism) is paramount for providing ourselves and future generations with a healthier and longer life on this plant.