Fiber Showdown: The Favorite or The Underdog?
4 November 2021
Non-biodegradable fibers have been the heavyweight champion of the fashion industry in recent years, but a rise in eco-conscious consumers and innovative fiber technology gives way to a new hero for the planet: botanic fibers. What are they and how do these fibers help the environment?
The majority of fashion today is made from fossil fuels; non-biodegradable fibers produced from finite resources such as crude oil and natural gas account for over two-thirds (69%) of the material input for clothes worldwide. When looking back, the rapid adoption of non-biodegradable fibers was a reasonable conclusion. Providing versatility, tenacity and durability that other fibers could not, non-biodegradable fibers mimicked the best of natural fibers and improved upon their limitations at a fraction of the cost. However, when looking forward and at the state of our environment, the de-escalation of non-biodegradable fiber production and consumption is not only a reasonable conclusion but also a responsible conclusion. As sustainability drives the fashion industry away from popular yet polluting non-biodegradable fibers, botanic fibers emerge as an alternative for people looking for an environmentally responsible solution.
What are non-biodegradable fibers and why is their popularity a problem?
Non-biodegradable fibers are artificial fibers that are created by extracting polymers from chemical processes using a spinneret. For fashion and textiles, non-biodegradable fibers offer cheap and easily mass-produced materials that perform equally, if not better, than natural fibers – but everything has a tradeoff.
According to Textile Exchange, the most popular non-biodegradable fibers is polyester, which accounts for about 52% of global fiber production in 2019. The ingredients needed to make this fiber are coal, air, water and petroleum from crude oil. More than 330 million barrels of oil were used to make polyester and other non-biodegradable textiles in 2015, which is equivalent to 21,000 Olympic swimming pools of oil. As a fossil fuel-based fiber, it does not biodegrade like natural or botanic fibers and can potentially sit in a landfill for hundreds of years.
Non-biodegradable fibers are a key contributor to textile waste because they stick around for far too long. A fiber solution that will return to nature when disposed of is needed, which would suggest a material that is originally from nature. That’s where botanic fibers come in.
What are botanic fibers and how do they offer a solution?
Botanic fibers are man-made and natural fibers derived from plants, including cotton, linen, lyocell, modal and more. These fibers provide a solution to the pressing issue of textile waste by simply allowing nature to operate as it would normally, returning organic material to the earth to help new life grow. While natural fibers seem like the most reliable option, it is man-made botanic fibers that offer unique prospects for realizing a circular fashion industry.
Unlike the inventors of fossil-based fibers, man-made botanic fiber innovators take the best of nature and the best of man to produce fibers that meet robust production, sourcing and supply chain sustainability standards. Man-made botanic fibers are derived from wood pulp and other natural plant materials. In the future, they can play an essential role in regenerating ecosystems affected by deforestation and biodiversity impacts related to raw material sourcing.
To give the industry a fighting chance against non-biodegradable fibers, look for and choose fashion and textiles natural, botanic and cellulosic fibers.