Plastic Free Fabrics Reviewed!

Photo by Lena Mytchyk on Unsplash

Why Choose Plastic Free Fabrics

Fashion, like food, is a significant factor in our sustainable lifestyle. After all, we have to wear clothes every day. And when we choose plastic-based textile, like polyester, it releases plastic particles in the water every time we wash these items.

Aside from plastic, clothing also contributes to carbon emissions. It makes up about 3-6.7% of global carbon emissions. The phenomenon of fast fashion does not help, either. It has required brands to sell way more clothing per season to keep up with trends.

Fashion has become so disposable that as much as 12 million tons of clothing are thrown away every year in the US! And sadly, most of these garments are reusable or recyclable. In fact, we're wearing clothes fewer times on average, down by 36% compared to previous years.

Surprise, surprise. With the disposable mindset of fast fashion, we no longer use our clothes to their limit; we go ahead and buy new ones.

While there's no 100% sustainable fabric, there are better options for the environment and the people than others. When checking for sustainability in fashion, it's crucial to determine the life cycle analysis of that particular textile.

Is it sustainable during the production, shipping, storage, use, and disposal stage? Yes, no fabric will ever score perfectly on all these stages. But sustainability means rising to the challenge of creating a circular economy, where resources and energy don't go to waste just for profit, and the waste goes back to the earth. And it's up to manufacturers and consumers to decide which is the closest to meeting a sustainable life cycle.

Plastic Free and Recycled Fabric Options

We know it's hard to figure out complex supply chains and confusing labels on your tag, so here's a simple breakdown of which fabrics are the most sustainable:

Organic or recycled cotton

As much as possible, try to look for clothes that use organic cotton or recycled cotton. Steer away from conventional cotton, because it's been shown to be very demanding of water (e.g., a pair of jeans uses 20,000 liters of water). In addition, traditional cotton links to pollution, with the toxic chemicals being dumped in riverways as a cheap way to dispose of production waste.

The most sustainable option is to find recycled cotton apparel, as these use far less energy, and water, and there will be less waste ending up in the landfills and seas. Organic cotton is also a good pick, produced without harmful pesticides and chemicals but it still uses a lot of water to grow and process.

Linen

Linen is a sturdy, breathable fabric that's been a popular choice for clothing since the olden times. Linen is made from flax, a relatively easy to plant and harvest crop. It's also known to use less water and pesticides - two important factors for sustainability.

Linen is biodegradable (if undyed), versatile, could be pricey, but worth the extra dollars for its durability. The most important factor for linen is the dye - linen dyes could be from toxic substances. Check the label to see if the garment uses organic dyes.

Tencel

Compared to linen and cotton, Tencel is a new type of fabric produced from wood pulp. It's actually designed as a textile that can alleviate the pollution and water consumption seen in other materials.

The texture and wear properties can be compared to rayon, but unlike rayon or viscose, that's not so sustainable, Tencel is a much better option.

For instance, comparing the two fabrics, Tencel uses way less water - only one-third compared to producing rayon. This fabric also has recyclable solvents (that are non-toxic!) and water. The production process is such that no toxic solvents are dumped in nature.

Do note that clothes made with Tencel command higher prices than cotton or rayon. But if you're looking for a durable and more sustainable alternative, Tencel is a good choice.

Recycled Polyester (rPET)

Photo by Moonstarious Project on Unsplash

We know this is a plastic-free list, but rPET deserves a mention because it is an accessible fabric, and it could help solve our massive plastic waste problem.

We know how harmful polyester is, from the production to the disposal stage. This plastic-based fabric is problematic. It's energy-intensive to produce, uses petroleum-based materials, is not breathable, and leaks microplastics into our land and ocean when washed or ultimately discarded.

Recycling is yet to make a dent on all the plastic waste we have, using just 9% of the total plastic waste. But if the demand for materials such as rPET grows, this may bolster recycling efforts more.

This fabric is sustainable because it reduces the need for raw materials, and petrol-based production, and it also keeps the existing polyester materials out of landfills.

Of course, being polyester, this will still release plastic particles when washed. That's an inescapable matter when using plastic products. If you could wash the clothes less often, or use a washing bag, it may help lessen the microplastics entering the waterways.

What about Bamboo?

Bamboo is a popular material that has taken the eco industry by storm. It's plastic-free, resilient, produces high yield in farming, and biodegradable. The grass is sourced primarily in China and Taiwan, and has been the number one plastic alternative for common household items, furniture, and personal care products.

So is it sustainable as a fabric?

Right now, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) does not certify bamboo, and one possible reason is that bamboo fabric is manufactured like rayon. Unfortunately, it's water-intensive and uses a lot of solvents to create the bamboo textile. Bamboo linen could be a sustainable option, but it is not readily available in most brands.

So while bamboo scores points for being low-impact in the farming and disposal phase, there are sustainability concerns when it is manufactured as a textile.   

The Takeaway

Sustainable fashion is a big part of the overall move to change our ways and go more circular. There are several options for quality clothing that won't be too detrimental to the environment, the industry workers, and in general, to people's health. Choosing plastic-free or recycled options could help steer us where our fashion sense and money should go.

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