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Look before you lounge

by: Kent Schneider 7/28/08


Modern textile production has an enormous ecological impact through its entire life cycle. It is estimated that as much as 25% of all insecticides utilized in modern agriculture are used in the production of cotton alone! But the chemical use does not stop there. Even if the fiber is grown organically it may undergo a number of chemical treatments from bleaching and dying, to flame retarding on its way to your home. In fact, many textiles carry a chemical load in them equal to the weight of the cloth itself. Research is now showing that all these chemicals are finding their way into our bodies with as of yet undetermined effects (a great article about this is available at National Geographic). When selecting a textile for your home or personal use, consider the impact it may have along the many stages of its lifecycle:


weaving knots

    Origin:

      Where did this textile come from? Was it organically grown and if so where is it being harvested. In terms of ecological impact where something comes from may be as important as how it was grown. Take cotton for example. Cotton can be a very thirsty crop. For this reason cotton grown in naturally dryer climates may need significant irrigation which raises the ecological footprint and embedded energy needed to produce it. For those fibers that are synthetically made, look at what chemicals make them up. Are those chemicals safe and what are the benefits of this fiber choice over a natural one.

    Creation:

      Once you have chosen a textile it is important to look at how the fiber was made into a cloth. A beautiful organically grown cotton looses its purity if it is then heavily bleached with chlorine, colored with heavy metal dyes, and then coated with a fire retardant. Natural fibers such as Hemp and Jute must be "retted" in order to free the long fibers used for cloth from the stalk. Many textile producers employ a chemical retting as opposed to the more labor intensive dew retting process which produces no waste water and leaves no trace chemicals in the fiber.

    Use:

      Is this fabric covering something that you will be living on every day such as a sofa or bed? Or is it an occasional piece in a room you don't use all that often? In the first case you may wish to seek out a textile that has been proven to not off gas as well as one that is safe for skin absorption. Look for textiles that meet the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) or Oeko-Tex standards. Both standards consider out gassing as well as skin absorption. If the piece is not used as often then something that meets Green Guard certification (which focuses on air quality) may be enough. It should be noted that because a textile has the Green Guard Certification and not a GOTS certification doesn't mean that it would not have passed the GOTS or is necessarily less green. As with many third party certifications an overall standard in the industry has yet to completely emerge. Green Guard is more widely known in the US while GOTS and Oeko-tex are more popular in Europe.

    Disposal:

      Like it or not most textiles will not last forever. The question then becomes, what happens to the cloth at the end of its useful life? Most natural products that have not been treated to do else wise will decompose when introduced to a landfill environment. Some fabrics can be recycled or repurposed to produce a new product. Be mindful of synthetic creations with no clear path for re-use. Often these textiles will begin process often called "downcycling" in which each successive rebirth of the fiber reduces its utility until it finally ends up in a landfill where it may not decompose.

    At Verde Home we carry several lines of eco friendly upholstery fabrics including O ecotextiles and Rubie Green. If you have any questions about fabric selection or would like to see what we have available please don't hesitate to contact us.



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