Impact of Materials

The production of textiles, leathers and wall finishes can have a large impact on the environment.

Significant environmental impacts can occur at every stage of the product lifecycle, regardless of the material type (natural, man-made or synthetic). The environmental impact of a product is determined by; the material composition (renewable or non-renewable materials, the quantity and type of chemicals, energy and water during production, and if the material is biodegradable or recyclable) and the manufacturer (efficiency of machinery and the manufacturer’s environmental procedures).

The major positive and negative aspects for each material type are summarised below.

Material Summary

Material

Positive Environmental Aspect

Negative Environmental Aspect

Cotton: Natural Fibre

  • rapidly-renewable resource
  • local sources are available
  • fibre is used in its least-processed state
  • able to absorb and retain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • biodegradable, reusable and recyclable
  • can use large quantities of insecticides and fertilisers
  • the use of aerial spraying spreads chemicals widely into the environment
  • intensive farming can lead to land degradation
  • can use large amounts of water for irrigation
  • often hazardous defoliants are used to remove the leaves from the plant

Wool: Natural Fibre

  • rapidly-renewable resource
  • abundant local sources are available
  • sheep can graze on dry, unusable land
  • fibre is used in its least-processed state
  • able to absorb and retain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • naturally fire retardant and antistatic
  • easily cleanable
  • biodegradable, reusable and recyclable
  • holistic sheep farming practices can have a positive impact on degraded land
  • often involves the use of pesticides and fertilisers
  • sheep farming can degrade the land
  • wool scouring can consume large amounts of water and chemicals, and produce heavily polluted waste-water
  • insect-resist / mothproofing treatments may cause health problems as well as producing effluent, toxic to aquatic life
  • often involves the use of water-polluting, heavy-metal dyes

 

Note: The negative aspects of wool are significantly reduced in the design and production of LIFE Textiles®

Flax, Ramie + Hemp

  • rapidly-renewable resource
  • can grow with virtually no fertilisers or water
  • fibre is used in its least-processed state
  • if the plant is cut by hand and left to ret in the ditch, then the environmental load on the planet is minimal reusable and biodegradable
  • mechanical methods of harvesting have adverse effects on the environment
  • water retting process produces highly polluting wastewater
  • use of enzymes and water increases biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and eutrophication of waterways

Silk

  • rapidly-renewable resource
  • fibre is used in least-processed state
  • can grow with virtually no insecticides and fertilisers
  • wild (tussah) silk production involves minimal interference with nature
  • naturally flame retardant
  • reusable and biodegradable
  • no local sources available for commercial use
  • commercially available cultivated silk is resource intensive as atmospheres are controlled and rigid growth conditions are employed
  • extraction of the fibres by steaming kills the silk chrysalis
  • the cleaning process involves chemicals and the polluted waste water is usually discharged to the ground water

Natural Bamboo

  • rapidly-renewable resource
  • can grow with virtually no fertilisers or water
  • fibre is used in its least-processed state
  • if the plant is cut by hand and left to ret in the ditch, then the environmental load on the planet is minimal
  • reusable and biodegradable
  • no local sources available for commercial use
  • mechanical methods of harvesting have adverse effects on the environment
  • water retting process produces highly polluting wastewater
  • use of enzymes and water increases biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and eutrophication of waterways

Leather

  • rapidly-renewable resource, leather is an agricultural by-product of the meat + dairy industry
  • leather is used in its least processed state,
  • Aniline leather is the most natural and least processed of all the leather types
  • leather is long lasting
  • Aniline and Semi-Aniline leathers will look and
    feel better over time
  • reusable and biodegradable
  • check where the rawhides are sourced as animal welfare issues in certain countries can be non-existent*
  • Corrected Grain is the most processed of all the
    leather types
  • hazardous substances can be used, chromium
    III and chromium VI (banned) can be used during
    the tanning process
  • wastewater can contain organic material and
    traces of chemicals such as chromium

Manmade Bamboo

  • renewable (bamboo pulp) resource
  • reusable and biodegradable
  • no local sources available
  • bamboo grown intensively in inappropriate areas can cause soil degradation and erosion mechanical methods of harvesting have adverse effects on the environment
  • water retting process produces highly polluting wastewater
  • can generate highly-polluting air and water emissions
  • can use catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese processing causes strong, unpleasant odour

Rayon, Viscose + Acetate

  • renewable (purified wood pulp) resource
  • reusable and biodegradable
  • no local sources available
  • wood grown intensively in inappropriate areas can cause soil degradation and erosion
  • can generate highly-polluting air and water emissions
  • can use catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese
  • processing causes strong, unpleasant odour

Polyester (PET)

  • melt-spun fibre – melt spinning is relatively cleaner than dry and wet spinning
  • non-renewable resource
  • no local sources available
  • long line of processing
  • often involves use of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, arsenic, and heavy metals including antimony
  • allergy-provoking dyes and carriers are added
  • energy and water intensive
  • non-degradable
  • no recycling infrastructure

Olefin

  • melt-spun fibre – melt spinning is relatively
  • cleaner than dry and wet spinning
  • lower-embodied energy compared to other synthetic fibres
  • non-renewable resource
  • no local sources available
  • long-line of processing
  • many carcinogenic chemicals such as lead based pigments are used
  • additives such as anti-oxidants (to resist discolouring and loss of mechanical properties),
  • UV stabilisers and flame retardants (because PE and PP undergo combustion more readily than any other common synthetic fibre)
  • energy and water intensive
  • non-degradable
  • no recycling infrastructure

Nylon

  • melt-spun fibre – melt spinning is relatively cleaner than dry and wet spinning
  • non-renewable resource
  • no local sources available
  • long-line of processing
  • many carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and hydrogen cyanide gas (nylon 6,6) are added manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 296 times more potent than carbon dioxide for producing global warming
  • high-embodied energy, compared to other synthetic fibres
  • energy and water intensive
  • non-degradable
  • no recycling infrastructure

Acrylic

  • non-renewable resource
  • no local sources available
  • dry-spun fibre and therefore more polluting
  • long-line of processing
  • many carcinogenic chemicals such as vinyl acetate (on priority lists for EPA) , acryl amide (unknown carcinogen), N,N-dimethyl-formamid (classified as dangerous to the environment) and acrylonitrile (also known as vinyl cyanide)
  • non-degradable
  • no recycling infrastructure

Vinyl (polyvinylchloride PVC)

  • lower-embodied energy compared to other synthetic fibres
  • non-renewable resource
  • no local sources available
  • long-line of processing
  • produced by wet or dry spinning, which is more polluting than wet spinning
  • many carcinogenic chemicals such as phthalates are added. Phthalates are known endocrine disrupters
  • PVC production produces dioxins, highly toxic substances that are linked with cancer. Dioxins are a global health threat because they persist in the environment and in mammals non-degradable
  • PVC is harmful to the environment after disposal

Reducing the Impact of Materials

Some impacts are unavoidable however it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of textiles and leathers:

– specify products made specify products made from sustainable rapidly renewable natural fibres such as LIFE Textiles®, or synthetic fibres that contain recycled content and are free of hazardous substances, such as Crypton® Green and Ecoustic

– specify products that are less processed, such as Aniline and Semi-Aniline leathers, and produced at manufacturers that are dedicated to reducing their environmental impact