Burlap is an extremely versatile coarse woven fabric. Its properties make it ideal for loads of different items – from potato sacks to table decoration. As more and more consumers are looking to live a more planet-friendly life it raises the question – is burlap eco-friendly? The answer: if you stick with the natural variety, yes! Let’s take a closer look…
A bit background – what is burlap made from?
Although, plastic-based faux burlap is available, burlap is most commonly made from the fibrous jute plant. It can also be made from hemp and flax. These are all natural fibers. Here we will keep it simple and just consider the ‘green’ credentials of the jute variety.
So, is burlap eco-friendly?
Burlap does not use much water
Jute has a fairly low water footprint compared to other crops such as cotton. Although water is needed for parts of the processing – such as retting – the actual growing of the crop generally relies on rainwater. Not requiring irrigation has a massive impact on its water footprint.
Burlap has a low carbon footprint, generally
Carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced during an activity. Burlap has quite a low carbon footprint – largely due to the manual production methods that are used.
Depending on where you live, making its way to the shop shelves may increase its carbon footprint. Burlap will need to travel a significant number of miles due to being grown mainly in India, Bangladesh and China. Transportation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – increasing the carbon footprint of burlap.
Jute grows really quickly!
When it comes to its growth speed, jute is a dream crop – it only takes up to 6 months to reach maturity. Not only does it allow farmers a large yield for a small area, it also means that areas of rich eco-diversity are not damaged to make way for extra space.
Burlap is biodegradable!
A materials ability to biodegrade is another measure of how environmentally friendly it is. Can it breakdown naturally by micro-organisms? In the case of burlap, it can! Although not ideal, if it does end up in landfill it will breakdown gradually over the course of a couple of years rather than decades or centuries. Pretty good going compared with lots of other items – some can outlive you and even your grandchildren in landfill!
Keen gardeners will also be pleased to know that it also makes a great addition to the compost pile. This is our top choice when it comes to disposing of used burlap – great for your garden and the planet. Everybody wins!
Burlap is durable
Reusing items over time, instead of their single use alternatives, is one of the ways we can live in a more planet-friendly way. Burlap fits the brief perfectly – it is an extremely strong and durable material. Not only is it eco-friendly in terms of its disposal, it also takes a lonnnng time for it to reach a stage that it can’t be used anymore.
But it’s not all good news…
There are synthetic burlap varieties
Burlap is not always made from natural fibers. Faux/synthetic burlap is also on the market for consumers who do not like the natural scent or the fiber shedding properties of burlap.
One variety of faux burlap is made from polyester, a plastic. Although it will last a long time, it is not biodegradable and will have the negative environmental impacts associated with polyester. It uses a lot of energy, water and contributes significantly to local pollution; almost the exact opposite of plant-based burlap. Our advice? Stick with the natural stuff!
Pesticides used in non-organic burlap production
Chemical pesticides are sometimes used in the production of jute. Pests, such as the jute hairy caterpillar can cause chaos for the crop. Although non-chemical strategies are available to keep them at bay, farmers often opt for chemical pesticides. Unfortunately, these do not just affect their target. These can impact the soil as well as polluting waterways – harming lots of different plant and animal species along the way.
The bottom line
Natural burlap ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to its ‘green’ credentials. The production of jute has minimal impact on the environment compared with lots of other materials. Its durability and strength mean it can last a long whilst its ability to biodegrade makes it easier to dispose of. It won’t outlive you, unlike plastics. For extra green points, opt for organic burlap products!