A fabric’s impact varies depending on how and where it is produced. For example, cotton uses much water and pesticides, while rayon is made from natural wood pulp that requires harsh chemicals.
Transporting fabrics around the world also has a significant impact on carbon emissions. It’s essential to choose materials that are designed for sustainability.
The textile industry produces a massive amount of pollution that is damaging our environment. This is due to water use, harmful chemicals, air emissions, and the transportation of goods from country to country. Besides this, the industry uses huge amounts of fossil fuel-based energy and also causes greenhouse gasses. Hence, the fashion industry needs to change and use sustainable fabrics.
By producing more environmentally friendly fabrics, several businesses are already moving toward sustainability in fabric manufacturing industry. They are switching from cotton to other sustainable fibers such as tencel, modal, and recycled polyester. These sustainable fabrics are also kinder to the planet, as they require less water. Sustainable fibers are made from wood pulp cellulose and require less chemical processing than their counterparts. Some of these fabrics are labeled as “responsible” by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
The GRS requires that recycled materials be used in the textile manufacturing process for at least 20% of the total fabric content. This is to ensure that the material can be recycled and used again. In addition, these fabrics must meet the requirement of being free from hazardous chemicals. Currently, the most popular recycling method of textile waste is to reuse it as fabric, also known as up-cycling. However, this requires high transport costs to collect the trash, and the products must be stored for a long time before they can be sold again.
The production and consumption of textiles are associated with high water and energy use. In addition, the industry contributes significantly to the formation of microplastic particles in our oceans and rivers and the degradation of freshwater habitats. Garment wear-wash cycles generate further pollutants in the form of fibers, causing a significant impact on the environment.
Several environmental rating systems and sustainability indicators in the fashion sector advocate for a replacement of cotton with polyester as a way to minimize impacts. However, such assessments often rely on attributional life cycle assessment (aLCA) databases that need more transparency and use allocation methods based on fiber length and polymer/oligomer/monomer recycling. These factors largely neutralize the potential impact-reducing benefits of switching from cotton to polyester. A recent study using a comprehensive life cycle approach (cLCA) showed that changing from cotton to petro-PET does not significantly reduce environmental footprints even if all reuse and recycle routes are utilized.
Instead, the most significant improvement is obtained by increasing the number of wears per garment. This can be achieved by reducing the amount of clothing produced and focusing on durable quality, increasing intrinsic value. Sustainable textile production also uses less water and land, which can be accomplished by avoiding unnecessary fabric manufacturing processes, such as pre-shrinking. In addition, using recycled fibers can be highly beneficial in terms of ecological aspects as they reduce the use of natural resources such as water and land.
Many of the chemicals used in fabric manufacturing harm people and the environment. They pollute water systems, contaminate airways and cause harm to the health of factory workers who use them. Sustainable fabrics reduce environmental impacts by using safer chemicals and minimizing their use in the production process.
Sustainable fabrics often have lower or no chemical emissions, and they use eco-friendly dyes, recycled materials and closed-loop processes to reduce energy consumption. They also use less water in the production process and require fewer washes to keep them looking fresh and new.
TNatural fiber is made from beech trees that are harvested sustainably. Look for the FSC or PEFC label when shopping for a modal to be sure you’re purchasing a sustainable product.
Polyester is a widely used fabric, but it’s not very sustainable. It’s non-biodegradable, and it breaks down into microplastics that are ingested by marine life and humans. Sustainable materials can be made from repurposed plastics, which reduces the need for virgin polyester.
When it comes to reducing waste, sustainable fabrics focus on design for reuse, repair services and encouraging consumers to wear their clothes more often. This reduces the need for new garments and prevents waste from discarding worn textiles. They can be repurposed for new products or recycled into yarn for other fabrics. This is called the circular economy approach.
The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, producing a massive amount of solid waste. The production of raw materials for fabric and yarn requires extensive use of chemicals for treating fibers (cellulose- and protein-based natural fibers such as cotton, flax, hemp, sisal, jute, and wool; synthetic polymer-based filaments such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic) and plastics. This includes pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, water and energy consumption, and air emissions during processing, manufacturing, and washing.
Garment production and disposal produce significant amounts of microplastics. This major global pollution problem is caused mostly by fast fashion and frequent first washes to keep garments looking new. The microplastics released during washing have been found to pollute lakes, rivers, and oceans worldwide.
Using a multi-indicator consequential life cycle assessment, the study found that increasing the number of wears per garment life can consistently reduce clothing impacts, compared to changing the type of fiber. This is due to fiber choice requiring trade-offs across different indicators and inducing changes in allied production systems. Choosing a bio-PET source instead of petro-PET also reduced the impact footprint of a garment, although this was not as consistent in the sensitivity analyses.