In recent years, industry has attempted to lower environmental impacts by using eco-compatible materials. One of today’s major environmental issues is the massive use we make of plastic in our daily lives. Attention has thus turned to ecological composites such as natural fibres, with the aim of making them more economical and affordable. The parameter that best defines the environmental impact of these materials is the energy required for growing, extraction, preparation and production operations and the resources these processes consume. Anydesign has made an important decision regarding its natural products and materials: to use only those with the lowest possible impact on our environment. These are jute, hemp, bamboo and organic cotton.
Jute originates with several plants of the Tiliacee family, cultivated mainly in India and in China. To obtain the fibre, the raw plant stems are soaked and then processed in a manner similar to that used for processing flax for linen. Due to its shiny look and its colour, jute is also called the ‘golden fibre’. Among the natural fibres, it is second only to cotton in amount produced. Jute is a 100% environmentally-friendly, biodegradable, repeatedly-recyclable fibre. One hectare cultivated in jute consumes ± 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide and releases 11 tonnes of oxygen into the atmosphere and so contributes both actively and passively to the health of our environment. As a fibre, jute is highly versatile and can be used in combination with other fibres or materials. It possesses good antistatic and insulating properties (low thermal conductivity), only moderate moisture retention, a low coefficient of extensibility and high resistance to traction. Jute is widely used in the manufacture of bags and reinforced sacking for agricultural products; reuse of jute packing/baling material in the decorating sector is on the increase. Recent years have seen a great increase in production of jute packaging materials as substitutes for plastics.
Hemp has been cultivated by man for thousands of years. It has recently been ‘rediscovered’ and exited its niche to inspire a vast consumer public. The hemp plant is very hardy, grows rapidly and requires little crop protection. It contains few proteins but many bitter substances and so is highly resistant to parasites and insects: pesticides are not required for growing. It would also seem that the hemp plant has a beneficial effect on the soil in which it is grown. The bast fibres come from the stem of the herbaceous plant Cannabis sativa, which is grown in temperate-humid climates, today above all in China, India, Russia and Europe. Hemp fibre is processed in a manner analogous to flax (linen): at the manufactories, the raw fibre undergoes sorting and combing to separate the long fibres from the shorter, less valuable ones, which are used for manufacturing cordage, bags and coverings. Hemp is a strong fibre, resistant to many types of damage; it is a recyclable, not-readily-flammable and renewable, environmentally-sustainable raw material with a low carbon footprint.
Bamboo is one of the most popular textile fibres among the environmentally-minded and possesses some exceptional properties. The finished fibre is extremely soft, with a feel very similar to silk; it is strong, much more so than cotton, for example. Bamboo-fibre fabrics are naturally antimicrobial and highly ‘breathable’: in short, they discourage accumulation of humidity and perspiration on the skin and the formation of the disagreeable odours that follows. Bamboo growing is environmentally sustainable. Plants reach maturity in about four years and can live as long as one hundred; they can grow in soil just a few centimetres deep and in extreme atmospheric conditions, since they require little irrigation. The plant’s antibacterial properties make fertilisers and pesticides superfluous; bamboo actually improves soil quality where it is grown. Bamboo plants consume four times more CO2 than trees and produce 35% more oxygen. One concern until not long ago was the fact that processing methods made use of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and carbon disulfide, substances that are extremely damaging both to textile workers and to the environment. Recently, ‘gentler’ processing methods based on non-toxic reusable agents and enzymes have been developed and, today, bamboo fibre is in full compliance with Oeko-Tex Standard 100.
Organic cotton is cotton grown according to methods and using products that have low impacts on the environment. Organic cotton is grown using only organic fertilisation systems to eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and fertilisers, toxic substances that persist in the cotton itself and in the environment. Organic cotton production is certified by third-party bodies that verify that only approved methods and products are used. Besides the ban on toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, for cotton to be certified organic it must not be grown from GMO (genetically-modified) seeds. In Europe, organic cotton production is regulated by Council Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007 of 28 June 2007. Various certifications guarantee organic cotton; the most widely adopted is the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).