How Sustainable Are Canvas Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Canvas Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

Read Time:22 Minutes

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Though canvas is often considered in the context of painting, it is also used in various other applications, from sailcloth to tents to outdoor work clothes, all the way to high fashion accessories. Canvas’s environmental impacts, similar to its usages, are diverse and inconsistent, depending largely on the type of natural fibers used. So, we had to ask: How sustainable are canvas fabrics?

The sustainability of canvas fabrics ranges from unsustainable (conventional cotton) to sustainable (recycled/organic cotton, linen, and hemp), depending on specific base fibers. Incorporating synthetic materials into canvas reduces its sustainability regarding biodegradability and toxicity. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of canvas fabrics used for clothes and household items. Then, we will evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with canvas fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Canvas Fabrics

Canvas is a plain-woven, heavy-duty material originally made with hemp or linen fibers. Modern canvas fabrics are often made with cotton and, depending on their specific functions, treated with synthetic substances. 

The sustainability of canvas fabrics depends largely on the natural fibers used and the finishing practices—specifically whether or not synthetic coatings are applied. 

“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of canvas fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method for evaluating the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of canvas fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with canvas fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of canvas fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of canvas fabricsSourcing conventional cotton fiber—the common raw material for modern-day canvas fabrics—is unsustainable. The cotton crop is water-thirsty and vulnerable to various pests. Also, the widespread monoculture in cotton cultivation depletes the soil and necessitates synthetic fertilizer in many growing regions. 

However, the sourcing stage of canvas fabrics can be sustainable when raw materials come from recycled waste, organically farmed, and/or low-input plants. For example, sustainably sourced raw materials for canvas fabrics include things like discarded cotton fibers (recycled cotton), organically-grown flax plants (organic linen), or low-input and high-yield industrial hemp plants (hemp).
Manufacturing of canvas fabricsManufacturing canvas fabrics is generally unsustainable. Regardless of the base fibers, the fundamentally mechanical processes of manufacturing canvas fabrics demand a lot of energy. The finishing processes and their environmental impacts vary depending on the desired physical properties to match the different purposes of using canvas fabrics. 
Transporting of canvas fabricsTransporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with canvas fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Canvas fabrics typically travel from fields to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of canvas fabricsUsing canvas fabrics is generally sustainable. This heavy-duty material is durable and likely to last for a long time before needing replacement. Canvas fabrics are often used for products like handbags and shoes, which don’t require frequent washing, thus saving water and energy. 
End-of-life of canvas fabricsThe end-of-life stage for canvas fabric is generally sustainable, so long as it is made with 100% natural fibers, because then it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable.

Overall, we can say canvas fabrics are on a spectrum from sustainable (made with recycled/organic hemp, linen, and cotton) to unsustainable (made with conventional cotton and synthetic coatings). 

However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, whether a pair of outdoor pants or a handbag, depends on more specific factors, including: 

  • the sourcing/growing of natural fibers used
  • finishing practices
  • the type of energy used in manufacturing and usage
  • the distance and mode of transportation

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy canvas fabrics more sustainably.

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics

Sourcing conventional cotton fiber—the common raw material for modern-day canvas fabrics—is unsustainable. The cotton crop is water-thirsty and vulnerable to various pests. Also, the widespread monoculture in cotton cultivation depletes the soil and necessitates synthetic fertilizer in many growing regions. 

However, the sourcing stage of canvas fabrics can be sustainable when raw materials come from recycled waste, organically farmed, and/or low-input plants. For example, sustainably sourced raw materials for canvas fabrics include things like discarded cotton fibers (recycled cotton), organically-grown flax plants (organic linen), or low-input and high-yield industrial hemp plants (hemp). 

What Raw Materials Are Used for Canvas Fabrics

Cotton is the overwhelmingly popular raw material used in canvas fabrics. Other natural fibers used in making canvas fabrics are hemp and linen

Depending on the desired properties of the fabrics, synthetic substances like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and acrylic gesso are also used in finishing canvas fabrics. 

In the following section, we will look at the following raw materials in canvas fabrics: 

We will discuss the use of synthetic substances (and their sources) in the manufacturing stage.

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Canvas Fabrics Impact the Environment

In this section, we will examine the raw materials mentioned above commonly sourced for canvas fabrics and the sustainability of sourcing such materials, including: 

  • sourcing cotton fibers as raw materials for canvas fabrics 
  • sourcing linen fibers as raw materials for canvas fabrics 
  • sourcing hemp fibers as raw materials for canvas fabrics 
How Does Sourcing Cotton Fibers for Canvas Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing cotton for canvas fabrics is not sustainable. Conventional cotton production uses a lot of water, energy, and harmful toxic chemicals. Yet, opting for organic and/or recycled cotton yarn for canvas fabrics is sustainable. 

The General Environmental Impacts of Growing Conventional Cotton Crops for Canvas Fabrics’ Raw Materials

Cotton is the most commonly used natural fiber in textiles, and canvas fabrics are no exception. 

Manufacturing cotton-based canvas fabrics uses natural cellulose fibers extracted from cotton plants. 

The environmental impacts of sourcing virgin cotton fibers are associated with growing the cotton crop. 

Here are some common practices in the conventional cultivation of cotton: 

Consequently, cotton cultivation has several adverse environmental impacts: 

  • High irrigation demand puts strain on freshwater resources. 
  • The health of the soil, water, and ecosystem is damaged by pesticide use. 
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer build up and disrupt the ecosystems (eutrophication potential).
  • A significant amount of greenhouse gasses are released from the field due to using fertilizer, watering the cotton plants, and ginning cotton seeds (i.e., separating the cotton fibers from the seeds). 

However, as the cotton plants grow, they sequester carbon dioxide, lowering the carbon footprint and global warming impact of cotton fibers and fabrics. 

The Various Locations Where Cotton Fibers Can Be Sourced as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

There are cotton crops in over 80 countries, but the biggest producers of cotton fibers are India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, and Uzbekistan. 

The high water demand and excessive use of chemicals in cotton cultivation cause several environmental and social challenges in places where cotton cultivation dominates the land. Some specific challenges are as follows:

Sourcing Sustainable Cotton Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

It is important to note that not all cotton fibers are made equally (bad). Though conventional cotton is ranked class E, the least sustainable fiber class, recycled cotton fiber belongs to class A, which is deemed the most sustainable fiber class, according to Common Objective’s Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres.

Here are some various forms of cotton fibers (that can be used as raw materials for canvas fabrics), in the general order from the most sustainable (at the top) to the least sustainable (at the bottom)

  1. Recycled cotton: mechanically recycled from pre- or post-consumer waste
  2. Organic cotton: grown without synthetic fertilizer and pesticides
  3. In-transition cotton: moving away from unsustainable practices to more sustainable ones. This group of cotton fabrics includes:
    1. In-conversion cotton
    2. Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton
    3. Cleaner Cotton™
    4. Fairtrade cotton 
    5. Naturally colored cotton 
  4. Conventional cotton

More Information on Sourcing Cotton Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of sourcing cotton fibers? Check out the following articles:
How Does Sourcing Linen Fibers for Canvas Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing linen fibers for canvas fabrics is sustainable. Linen fibers come from the flax plant, which is a low-input, multiple-output crop with a relatively short rotation. Also, flax cultivation, especially in organic farming, has significant environmental benefits. 

The General Environmental Impacts of Growing Conventional Flax Crops for Canvas Fabrics’ Raw Materials

Linen is a natural fiber traditionally used in making canvas fabrics. 

Manufacturing linen-based canvas fabrics uses natural cellulose fibers extracted from flax stems. 

The environmental impacts of sourcing linen fibers are associated with growing the flax crop. 

Flax cultivation has several positive environmental impacts. Specifically, 

  • Flax plants have a high carbon sequestration potential: they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen, helping to mitigate the climate crisis
  • Flax can be used as a between crop to break with monocultural farming, increasing ecosystem diversity and soil quality
  • A field of flax plants provides food and valuable habitats for insects
  • A flax plant provides other products besides cellulose fibers: the seeds can be used as a food supplement and as a source of oils. 
  • Flax is a low-input crop with a short rotation: this species can grow well in rain-fed conditions with modest fertilizer and pesticide inputs and be ready for harvest after 100 days. 

However, conventional flax cultivation tends to use some synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, making for negative environmental impacts too. The amount of agrochemicals used is often slightly more than hemp, yet much less than cotton

The Various Locations Where Linen Fibers Can Be Sourced as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

Most of the world’s flax (85%) is grown in Europe, with the top producers being France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. 

Flax fibers cultivated in Europe will be likely to follow strict yet fair safety and environmental protection standards. 

Sourcing Sustainable Linen Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

It is important to note that not all linen fibers are equal in their sustainability. 

According to Common Objective’s Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres, conventional linen is ranked class C, right in the middle of the sustainability scale. However, the same standard ranks organic linen among the most sustainable fibers. 

More Information on Sourcing Linen Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

Related: Are you interested to learn more about the environmental impact of sourcing linen fibers? Check out the following articles:
How Does Sourcing Hemp Fibers for Canvas Fabrics Impact the Environment

Sourcing hemp fibers for canvas fabrics is sustainable. Canvas fabrics were originally made with hemp fibers from the industrial hemp plant, which is a low-input, multiple-output crop with a relatively short rotation and an exceptionally high fiber yield. Also, hemp cultivation, especially in organic farming, can improve soil health while sequestering carbon dioxide and mitigating the climate crisis. 

The General Environmental Impacts of Growing Conventional Industrial Hemp Crop for Canvas Fabrics’ Raw Materials

Hemp is a traditional natural fiber used for making canvas fabrics. 

Manufacturing hemp-based canvas fabrics uses natural cellulose fibers extracted from the stems of industrial hemp plants

The environmental impacts of sourcing hemp fibers are associated with growing the industrial hemp crop. 

Hemp cultivation has several positive environmental impacts. Specifically, 

However, some conventional hemp farmers use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides unnecessarily. 

The Various Locations Where Hemp Fibers Can Be Sourced as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

Hemp cultivation is believed to have started in Central Asia before spreading worldwide. However, industrial hemp cultivation is not legal in many countries because of the association between industrial hemp and marijuana; indeed, industrial hemp is the same species of plant (Cannabis sativa) as marijuana but with much less tetrahydrocannabinol

The top producers of hemp fibers in 2020 are France, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Poland, and the Netherlands. In the US, cultivating industrial hemp is on the rise. 

Sourcing Sustainable Hemp Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

It is important to note that not all hemp fibers are equal in their sustainability. 

Conventional hemp is ranked class C, in the middle of the sustainability scale according to Common Objective’s Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres. However, the same standard ranks organic hemp among the most sustainable fibers. 

More Information on Sourcing Hemp Fibers as Raw Materials for Canvas Fabrics 

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the environmental impact of sourcing hemp fibers? Check out the following articles:

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Canvas Fabrics

Manufacturing canvas fabrics is generally unsustainable. Regardless of the base fibers, the fundamentally mechanical processes of manufacturing canvas fabrics demand a lot of energy. The finishing processes and their environmental impacts vary depending on the desired physical properties to match the different purposes of using canvas fabrics. 

How Sustainably Are Canvas Fabrics Generally Manufactured

Here are the standard steps in manufacturing canvas fabrics

  1. Extract cellulose fibers from cotton, flax, or hemp plants: The traditional fibers for canvas fabrics are hemp and linen, but nowadays, an overwhelming share of canvas fabrics is made with cotton. Canvas manufacturers use the rougher fibrous parts of the cotton, linen, and hemp plants to make canvas yarn since this material is intended to be heavy-duty. 
  2. Forming the canvas yarn: The rough, short fibers are often carded (instead of combed) to create the canvas thread, as softness is not a requirement for this material. 
  3. Plain-weaving the canvas yarn: The weft threads (the horizontal yarns) are woven into the warp threads (the vertical yarns), alternating between being over and under. This weaving technique creates a simple criss-cross pattern. 
  4. Finishing the fabrics: Depending on the purpose with which the canvas fabrics are used, they can be treated with:
    • a coating of PVC on each side or both sides of the fabrics for additional waterproofing,
    • bleaching agents before adding a layer of gesso for painting on, or 
    • dyes before being used in garments or tents. 

Let’s now dive into a few key sustainable issues of this life-cycle stage: 

Manufacturing Canvas Fabrics Is Energy-Intensive 

Producing canvas fabrics from cotton, linen, or hemp fibers is generally energy-intensive because energy is required to run various machines, including the loom and the carding machine.

If plant harvesting and fiber extracting are done by machinery, energy is also needed to run 

  • a ginning machine (in the case of cotton-based canvas), or 
  • machines to break, scutch, and hackle (in the case of linen– and hemp-based canvas)

High energy usage in manufacturing leads to elevated carbon emissions if the energy generation depends heavily on fossil fuels. 

Using Synthetic Substances in Finishing Canvas Fabrics Affects Their Sustainability 
Using Synthetic Dyes in Canvas Fabrics 

Canvas fabrics are made with natural fibers (cotton, linen, or hemp) and, consequently, can be dyed with natural dyes. These dyes are derived from minerals, plants, or animals instead of synthesized in a lab. 

However, canvas manufacturers can choose to dye their fabrics with synthetic dyes, which often require a lot of water to produce and contain heavy metals

Using PVC in Canvas Fabrics 

The use of PVC coating also affects the sustainability of canvas fabrics. Here are some of the most adverse environmental and health impacts of PVC:

  • Manufacturing and disposing of PVC releases toxic phthalates, which are associated with many health problems. Specifically, phthalates have been found to damage the reproductive system in both males and females. 
  • Dioxin, a by-product of PVC, is the most potent synthetic carcinogen ever tested in laboratory animals and is a known human carcinogen.
  • Chlorine production for PVC is one of the world’s most energy-intensive industrial processes. 
  • PVC production releases mercury into the environment.
  • It is extremely difficult to recycle PVC and canvas fabrics coated in PVC. 
Using Gesso in Canvas Fabrics 

Canvas fabrics used for painting are added with a layer of gesso. Traditionally, gesso is made from rabbit skin, which could raise ethical concerns. 

A common alternative to animal-based gesso is acrylic gesso. Synthetic gesso also has some adverse environmental impacts, including its high energy demand and the limitation in degradation at the end of its life. 

Where Are Canvas Fabrics Usually Manufactured

China is the world’s largest linen and industrial hemp fibers producer and is constantly competing with India regarding cotton cultivation and production for canvas fabrics. 

One of the main sustainability issues with producing canvas fabrics in China and India is the dependency on fossil fuels for energy generation. Only 9.31% of the primary energy in India comes from renewable sources. The renewable energy share in China is higher (14.95%), yet it is lower compared with, for example, Italy, where 18.36% of the primary energy comes from renewable resources. 

Using renewable energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass) reduces carbon emissions at this stage. 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Canvas Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive life-cycle stage for clothing items made with canvas fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Canvas fabrics typically travel from fields to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 

For example, in the life-cycle of cotton-based canvas clothes, transportation typically occurs: 

  • from fields where cotton are grown to the cotton fiber and canvas fabric manufacturing location(s),
  • from the canvas clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers and/or physical shops, 
  • from sorting centers and/or physical shops to the consumer’s house, and
  • from the consumer’s home to the centers for recycling and/or disposing.
Traveling Distances of Canvas Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain

It is not uncommon for canvas fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that field, yarn processing, and canvas fabric finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents. 

Here are some scenarios for transporting cotton-based canvas fabrics: 

  • Farmers grow cotton in Australia to be sourced and transported to a canvas manufacturer in China. Final pieces of canvas clothes and accessories are then shipped to Europe to sell to consumers.
  • Cotton fibers are harvested from fields in India and transported to Brazil for canvas fabric production. Canvas handbags are then sold to the US market.
  • Manufacturers in the US source cotton fibers from crops grown within the country and turn them into canvas fabrics and shoes before selling them to US consumers. 
  • US manufacturers source cotton fibers in the US and send the fibers to fabric factories in Mexico and then to outdoor clothing factories in Egypt. The final canvas clothes are sent back to retail shops in the US. 

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing canvas fabrics that travel shorter distances.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Canvas Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of canvas clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • large container ships 
  • planes 
  • freight trains 
  • long-distance trucks 
  • short-distance delivering vans 

There are also various types of transportation vehicles used that have different carbon footprint impacts: 

As a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering canvas clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order.

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Canvas Fabrics

Using canvas fabrics is generally sustainable. This heavy-duty material is durable and likely to last for a long time before needing replacement. Canvas fabrics are often used for products like handbags and shoes, which don’t require frequent washing, saving water and energy. 

Canvas fabrics are made to be heavy-duty: the material was first popularized as sailing cloth. Using strong and durable material like canvas is sustainable because you don’t need to replace it too frequently (thus, there is no need for more resources to make the new one). 

From sailing clothes to painting mediums, canvas fabrics also find their place in handbags, shoes, and outdoor (work) clothes. The items that most often utilize canvas fabrics tend not to require frequent washing, which saves water and energy. This saving is significant, considering that washing, drying, and ironing (the usage phase) often account for a high share of energy consumption in the life-cycle of clothing

Also, canvas fabrics without synthetic coatings don’t shed microplastics into the environment while being used and washed.

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Canvas Fabrics

The end-of-life stage for canvas fabric is generally sustainable, so long as it is made with 100% natural fibers, because then it is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable.

If canvas fabrics are made with 100% natural fibers (i.e., without synthetic coats and dyes), their biodegradability is the same as their base material: cotton, linen, or hemp. 

There are three main options for these canvas fabrics: 

  • composting
  • incineration
  • landfilling

It takes weeks or months for natural fibers like cotton, linen, or hemp to decompose. In contrast, it takes hundreds of years for most synthetic-based textiles to start breaking down. 

Specifically, 

Natural fibers (i.e., cotton, linen, and hemp) can also be composted to return nutrition to the soil. 

How Circular Are Products Made of Canvas Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input is new resource.

Canvas fabrics can also be made with recycled cotton. Recycling hemp and linen are not common practices, however, largely because of the limited availability of these two natural fibers. 

Reusing cotton fabric waste helps save resources to produce virgin cotton fibers and reduce waste materials.

How Can You Buy Canvas Fabrics More Sustainably

The key to sustainably buying canvas fabric products is to check on relevant environmental and original certifications. 

Certifications for canvas fabrics made with 100% hemp, linen, or cotton: 

  • USDA ORGANIC: This certificate is applied to growing the crop (raw material), ensuring natural agricultural products are produced that can be certified as “organic.” 
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally-recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the fields where crops are grown). 
  • USDA Certified Biobased Product: The USDA BioPreferred® Certification is a voluntary certification offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. The certificate identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.

Certifications for canvas fabrics made with recycled cotton, linen, or hemp:

  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material. 

Certifications for generic canvas fabrics:

  • OEKO-TEX®: OEKO-TEX® labels aim to ensure that products pose no risk to human health (i.e. containing banned chemicals). 
  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.

Some certifications are signaling brands’ efforts toward lowered environmental impacts and a circular economy are: 

  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Where to Buy Sustainable Canvas Fabrics 

We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that canvas fabrics are on a spectrum from sustainable to unsustainable. If you want to look for canvas fabrics on the upper end of the sustainability ladder, here are some pointers: 

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces the Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages the Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like hemp or hemp. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, hemp or hemp; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child laborers worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

Traditional hemp-based and linen-based canvas fabrics are generally sustainable, while the same cannot really be said for canvas fabrics made with conventional cotton fibers and PVC coating. The sustainability of canvas fabrics depends largely on the cultivation of the fiber crop, be it cotton, flax, or industrial hemp. 

If synthetic coating and dyes are not used in making canvas, the end products are biodegradable and can be more easily recycled. 

To make canvas fabrics even more sustainable, follow these steps:

  1. Buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled canvas products.
  2. While using canvas clothing items, maximize the number of wears between washes, and keep them as long as possible.
  3. At the end of canvas products, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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