Cotton is the most popular fabric that is widely used all over the world. However, as we know, it is not the most sustainable fabric. Its cultivation is rather resource-consuming, and it has a negative environmental impact on wildlife and our nature.
Nowadays, cotton is grown in about 80 countries of the world. The territories its plantations occupy are immense - over 33 million hectares. It is 2.5% of all arable areas on the Earth. Cotton growth decreases soil fertility, reduces biodiversity, and leads to soil salinization. Moreover, cotton production requires a lot of water which is not sustainable. Many chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, are commonly used during the production process, causing harm to nature. That is why its production and exports have decreased considerably in recent years. Countries like Australia, the USA, and Brazil, try to grow cotton organically in small amounts while others have already reduced its cultivation substantially. Thus, the clothing manufacturers are looking for ways to replace cotton with some other materials.
The question is how efficiently cotton can be substituted. In fact, above 17 million tons of cotton fiber are produced on the Earth per year. Since cotton yarn manufacturing is going down, apparel production is suffering from its lack. The latest report made by Texprocil states that India has cut down the export of its cotton yarn by 33%. It is high time to look for appropriate alternatives.The research has been done, and its findings indicate that four natural & sustainable fabrics can replace cotton. These plants are even more sustainable than cotton yarn.
Let us start with the least known fabric in the textile industry. Ramie can be processed into a very comfortable, durable, and breathable fabric. The fiber is more absorbent than cotton, and it glitters like natural silk. The only drawback is that it contains some gummy resin that is rather difficult to get rid of. So, fiber production may turn out to be quite costly.
Hemp is highly resistant to insects and other pests. It grows like cannabis and never needs any fertilizers. It takes this plant only 11 weeks to produce yields, so it is quite renewable.
This plant has been known since ancient times. Its fiber even has a few advantages in comparison to cotton. Firstly, it does not need as much area to grow as cotton does. Secondly, it uses 9,000 liters less water to thrive per year. Finally, this sustainable fabric is much more durable than cotton. The latter gets weaker with every other washing and wetting, but hemp doesn't.
One of the biggest disadvantages of hemp is that it is commonly associated with marijuana even though they are different species. Hemp contains less than 0.3% of THC (a narcotic) though it is categorized as a controlled substance in the U.S.
Flax plants are a bit similar to hemp. They do not need much water to grow, so the process of irrigation is not needed. Flex is pest-resistant by its nature, so it does not need pesticide use. The process known as retting is used for producing this fabric. It is a mechanical method without the use of any chemicals.
Everybody widely uses flex. You know it as linen, and you can imagine this great, super-soft, and breathable textile that ensures, besides, prominent anti-microbial protection. Linen is the most comfortable fabric. It can retain air and provide insulation regulating temperatures. Clothes made of linen are warm in the cold seasons and keep you cool when the weather is hot. Apart from it, flax fabric is quite lightweight. Though, the process of linen manufacturing is a bit harder and needs more labor and effort.
Bamboo is the most sustainable fabric of all four. It needs one-third less water to cultivate. And more - because of its ability to replenish naturally, there is no need to replant it again and again. Bamboo fabric is considered a great alternative to cotton with almost the same qualities - it's absorbent and hypoallergenic. Since it is the fastest-growing plant species in the world, no fertilizers are needed.
Bamboo viscose is a very soft material. It is often compared to such a high-quality textile as Egyptian cotton, which is considered the best on the market. The only drawback of this fiber we need to be aware of is its manufacturing's chemical process. It uses such dangerous chemical compounds as carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide though they are used in small quantities.
All in all, cotton can be replaced. Bamboo rayon can be used for manufacturing clothing. Moreover, other materials mentioned above can also be thoroughly researched and used.
There is no need to doubt the advantages of rayon vs. cotton. When we are talking about sustainable fabrics, the choice is obvious. We should use everything that nature provides us with for the benefit of us all and our future generations.