Linen is an extremely popular and versatile fabric. Its properties make it suitable for a wide range of items from home décor to summertime suits. But as more an more people opt to live in a planet-friendly way our use of different fabrics has come under scrutiny. Here we look at some of the environmental issues surrounding linen – is linen eco-friendly?
Where does linen come from?
Before we try to convince you that linen is great for all your planet-friendly fabric needs, lets have a quick look into where linen actually comes from. Linen is a natural fabric that is made from the stem of the flax plant. Flax is an extremely adaptable plant and can be found in several countries throughout the world. It tends to thrive in cooler climates such as those found in Europe.
So, is linen eco-friendly?
Flax plants are local to almost everyone!
Although it seems to prefer cooler climates, the adaptability of flax cultivation means it can be grown almost anywhere. Flax growers are dotted all over the world – so wherever you live, linen production can be local. This can avoid the linen travelling thousands of miles to reach your wardrobe – avoiding the carbon emissions associated with transport.
Very little waste in flax cultivation
Flax is not just used to produce linen – the stem is only used for that. The seeds crushed to produce linseed oil, a popular health supplement. Even the crushed seeds, a byproduct of linseed oil production, can be used for animal feed. Flax is quite a unique plant in this sense. Every little bit is utilized.
Limited chemicals needed in cultivation of flax plants
Pesticides and fertilizers are limited in the cultivation of flax. Chemical pesticides can have an extremely detrimental effect on the environment, so their limited used boosts ‘green’ credentials of linen significantly. Although they are not completely free of chemical use – if an organic linen is available you should definitely opt for that instead!
Flax is not thirsty
The water footprint of crops varies considerably. Luckily, does not need an intensive irrigation system to grow – it generally only requires rainwater. According to the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC), buying a linen shirt instead of a cotton one will save nearly 20 liters of water!
Linen is biodegradable and compostable
Linen will not persist indefinitely when it comes to the end of its usable life. It will be broken down by micro-organisms – it is biodegradable. If it were to end up in the landfill pile, although not ideal, it would biodegrade in time. Whilst some materials take centuries to biodegrade, linen will do so in a matter of months in the right conditions. Linen can also be added to the compost pile as a ‘brown’ ingredient. Linen will contribute to a nutrient-rich compost whilst be a kinder disposal method for the planet too.
As with other natural materials, you should be mindful of added trims and if the linen is blended with any other materials (especially synthetic ones). This can cause havoc in your compost pile.
Linen is made to last
Linen is an extremely durable material and naturally moth-resistant! A good quality linen item can last decades if it is cared for in the right way. Not only great for your bank balance, it also has a positive impact on the environment. Textiles are a large contributor to landfill. The Council for Textile Recycling estimate that, on average, each person in the U.S. throws away a staggering 70 pounds of clothes or textiles each year. By opting for durable fabrics such as linen, we can wear our clothes for longer – or they will be in good condition to pass on to someone else if it just isn’t your style anymore. Either way, diverting it from landfill, or the need to recycle so soon, is positive for the environment.
Its not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to linen eco-friendly credentials…
Energy is needed to maintain your linen garments
In life, nothing is perfect – and linen very much adheres to this fact. Anyone that has owned a linen garment will know that it wrinkles extremely easily. If you are not a fan of the relaxed, wrinkled look you will need patience and a lot of heat and steam to remove the wrinkled look! All the intense ironing that linen needs ultimately uses a lot of household energy.
Flax processing can take place miles away!
As mentioned before, flax plants are local to lots of areas of the world. However, the processing of a flax plant does not always occur – it is fairly common for the flax plant to be shipped to China for processing. Although the potential for minimum miles is there, it does not always work out that way in practice.
The bottom line
Linen is about as eco-friendly as a fabric can be. Production uses very little in the way of chemicals or water compared with some other fabrics. Although it is not perfect – it comes pretty close! Once the item has come to the end of its usable life it can also be disposed of in an eco-friendly way. It does not need to contribute to the growing landfill pile. Planet-friendly all-round!