Submitted to: Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/26/2011
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Natural fibers produce desirable and quality products that are cultivated and derived from sustainable resources rather than petroleum. The dissimilar processing techniques of cotton and flax combined with their fiber properties and byproducts create benefits and drawbacks for utilization. Fiber production creates numerous byproducts with diverse commercial uses. Cotton producers are generating more fiber on less land, with fewer chemicals, and a reduced amount of water while textile processors are creating less of an environmental impact. Flax producers grow fiber utilizing low levels of insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers capable of producing for example less expensive automotive components that use less energy than glass fiber components. Cotton has a well-known and established distribution/grading system that is more highly developed than flax that simplifies its utilization with fiber properties on each bale. Replacement of synthetic fiber by natural fibers will not be based just on comparable specific mechanical properties, but also on fiber consistency and sustainability.
Technical Abstract: Much research continues to develop renewable, recyclable, sustainable, and bio-based products from agricultural feed stocks such as cotton and flax fiber. Primary requirements are sustainable production, low cost, and consistent and known quality. To better understand these products, research continues to evaluate feed stock fibers, byproduct fibers, fiber constituent makeup, processing requirements, and standards to judge fiber quality and consistency. Overall, replacement of synthetic fiber by natural fibers will not be based just on comparable specific mechanical properties, but also on fiber consistency and sustainability. These fibers are commercially used in textiles and a better understanding has led to some manufacturers utilizing these fibers in novel items with expected future product growth.