The thing that makes a material or clothing potentially harmful to the environment is its most basic part – the fibre. According to a report by the company Textiles Intelligence, the biggest threat to the environment emerges at the stage of manufacture of fibres.
The problem starts at the stage of sheep farming. Manure fumes, for example, have had a significant impact on the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past centuries. In addition, feces contribute to pollution of surface water in areas where sheep have been grazing.
In the case of cotton, the problem is associated with water usage. It is estimated that approx. 8,500 litres of water are needed to grow the cotton that is used to produce one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Another problem is the use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers and other chemicals on crops, which can be harmful to the environment. Moreover, pesticides can be a source of considerable harm to human health.
If cotton is produced in such large quantities in the nearest future, we will see a growing need to find improved and sustainable methods of growing it. A number of such initiatives have already emerged, including such projects as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and Cotton made in Africa (CmiA), among others.
In the manufacture of synthetic fibres, raw material is less environmentally friendly than in the production of cellulose fibres. It is because most of it is derived from the petrochemical industry, especially from non-renewable sources.
There are research initiatives to counter the dangers linked to the production of synthetic fabrics. One among these is Ingeo, a synthetic fibre made from agricultural crops. However, critics of this method argue that the land used for cultivation of these crops takes up the space for potential food crops.
The textile industry has indeed a long way to go. Despite the efforts to reduce environmental pollution, eco-friendly fibres account for only a small proportion of the 89 million tonnes of fibres produced globally.