Author – Jobby Thadikkaran
Due to the swift destruction on the environment today, people have become increasingly concerned about ways to adapt to a natural way of living. However, to acclimatize to this type of a lifestyle, we need to identify the best way to live a sustainable and balancing life. Adapting to use real natural fibers will surely be helpful for the generations to come since they are biodegradable and are easy to wear.
The most important feature of these natural fiber products are able to absorb water and decay through the action of fungi and bacteria Nevertheless, the time involved in their production requires some amount of patience. A diverse range of eco-friendly fibres are produced by plants and animals that can extensively be used for various garment purposes. A wide range of products are produced right from clothing textiles to home furnishing products, packaging, papermaking and composite materials.
Here is a continuation of our list of natural fibers that can help in preserving our environment:
The word ‘coir’ comes from the Malayalam word ‘Kayar’. Since times immemorial, coir has been used by sailors around the world. Coir fiber is an extract of coconut husk found between the hard internal shell and outer coat of coconuts. Coir fibers are of two varieties: Brown coir is made from ripe coconut whereas, the white coir fiber is harvested from unripe coconuts. India and Sri Lanka are the two major producers of coir fibers, producing 90% of the global production. Pollachi in Tamilnadu and coastal Kerala in India produce about 60% of white coir fiber whereas, Sri Lanka produces 36% of brown coir.
The usage of each coir fiber depends on the variety. The brown coir fiber are widely used for fabrication of doormats, brush, mattresses and other upholstery materials and the white coir fiber are used for making ropes, fine brushes, strings and fishing nets due to its strong resistance to saltwater. Coir materials are also widely used to overcome erosion.
Hemp is quite an environmentally-friendly fiber that is often confused with ‘marijuana’ herb; just so because it grows easily. It has been cultivated around the world for over 1,200 years. Hemp grows pretty fast to a height of 4 meters without agrochemical inputs and captures large quantities of carbon. The sapling is usually planted between March and May in the Northern Hemisphere and between September and November in the Southern Hemisphere. The plant stem matures within 3-4 months time, which is then cut 2 to 3cm above the soil and left on the ground to dry.
Hemp has extremely versatile properties which can be used in creating authentic fabrics. Since there are no chemical residues in cloths made from hemp, it is one of the safest clothing for us to wear. The material also protects one from the harmful UV rays. Apart from clothing, hemp is also used as ‘mop crop’ to clear impurities in wastewater, such as sewage effluents, excessive phosphorus from chicken litter, and other unwanted substances and chemicals.
Flax, recognized as the foundation crop of modern civilization, is a food and fiber crop mostly grown in cooler regions of the world. The length of flax ranges from 90 cm up to an average 10-12 microns in diameter. Like hemp, flax is also known to be extremely eco-friendly as it grows quickly and consumes less irrigation, pesticides and herbicides, which in turn help to stabilize and protect local water sources.
Flax has special properties which are, soft, lustrous, flexible, and are also stronger than cotton fiber though its elasticity is less comparatively. Flax fiber being a cellulose polymer has a more crystalline structure, making it stronger, crisper and stiffer to handle but get easily wrinkled. Flax also consumes very little energy in the process of producing linen fabrics, which can be recycled into paper and insulation materials for the car industry.
Silk is known as the ‘queen of textiles’ due to the smoothness and lustrous quality of its yarn. The yarn is produced from the cocoons of the silk-producing moth, ‘silkworm’. The worms are fed on mulberry leaves that are normally devoid of pesticides and fertilizers. The worms then produce liquid silk that hardens into filaments to form a cocoon. The cocoon, formed from an unbroken fiber, is secreted from the body of the dead caterpillar which is then heated to soften the hardened filaments so, it can be unwound.
Silk has special properties like good absorbency, low in conductivity and can be easily dyed. Apart for being an eco-friendly product, silk also has some health benefits. The natural protein present in silk helps in preventing allergic reactions such as asthma, eczema and rhinitis. The amino acids in silk are good for skin, help in delay of skin wrinkling and are also said to be a soothing agent for the central nervous system that helps an individual to remain calm.
Wool is the most common natural fiber, which is often perceived to obtain from sheep alone. However, the fact is, there are varieties of wool that are acquired from different animal sources. For instance, Mohair wools are acquired from goats, Qiviut wool from muskoxen, Angora wool from rabbits and other types of wool from camelids. Wool is carded and combed, then spun into yarn for fabrics or knitted garments. Till today, wool stand as one of the world’s leading animal natural fiber, where two-thirds of wool is used in manufacturing of garments, which includes sweaters, dresses, coats, suits and active sportswear.
There are many benefits of using wool for the environment as well as for an individual’s protection. Substituting synthetic fibers for wool can generally help a lot in protecting the environment. For example, for home insulation panel, fiber glass that draws away moisture from walls and timbers can be replaced with insulations made from wool as it is a natural fire resistant. It also has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapor and sweat of the skin making it extremely breathable. Another important feature of wool is its fire-retardant properties. Covering oneself with fabrics made of pure wool prevents the fire to catch easily, even if does, it burns slowly and eventually extinguishes by itself when the flame is controlled.
To conclude, if green products procured from natural fibers since time immemorial are adopted, our idea of going green can become effective. Products produced from these fibers ranging from textiles, ropes, nets, brushes, carpets, mats, clothing and the lists goes on, are in plenty and not limited. As a matter of fact, today, more than 50% of Indian textile industries have turned to using natural fibers as their base materials by replacing synthetic fibers. Go green by indulging in natural fiber products!
Technical properties of natural fibers
|Width or diameter (mm)||100-450||0.0016-0.05||15||12-16||10-55|
|Volume Resistivity at 100 volts (W cm * 105)||9-14||-||-||-||-|
|Micro – Fibrillar Anle (degree)||30-49||6.2||-||10.0||-|
|Cellulose/Lignin Content (%)||43/45||70.- 74.4||-||64.1-71||-|
|Elastic Modulus (GN/m2)||4-6||69||-||100||-|
– Factfile –
Menachem Lewin, Handbook of Fiber Chemistry, Third Editio, pp.490
James A. Kent Handbook of Industrial Chemistry and Biotechnology, pp. 420
Khalid Rehman Hakeem, Mohammad Jawaid, Othman Alothman, Agricultural Biomass Based Potential Materials
Anil N. Netravali, Christopher M. Pastore, Sustainable Composites: Fibers, Resins and Applications, pp.250, pp.56
Yong-Woo Lee, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Silk Reeling and Testing Manual, Issue 136 pp.