Are you wondering if a certain material is sustainable? Should you be using it or avoiding it where possible?
Welcome to the Tiny Eco Material Sustainability Resource Guide.
All materials come with some kind of environmental and carbon footprint. But some, of course, are much better than others.
It can be a complicated area with a lot of factors, different supply chains and processing stages at play. This page aims to make things simple and clear to understand by giving you the science-backed information to help you make a more eco friendly choice with your materials.
You can use the menu just below to jump down to a material you have in question.
What makes a material sustainable?
There’s a lot going on when it comes to material sustainability. Working out why one material is more sustainable than another can be a complex task. We’ll try and simmer this down for you, so you can be more informed on live a more sustainable life.
Sustainability in materials refers to the practice of using resources in a way that preserves the natural environment, limits greenhouse gas emissions into the air, and is social responsible.
There are a number of key factors at play that help us determine how sustainable a certain material is. It involves taking into consideration the full product lifecycle assessment, from raw materials to end of life.
How to create an unsustainable material:
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage – There are lots of sustainability queries here that often get kept underwraps as far as the end product and consumer are concerned. Key questions we need to understand revolve around: energy consumption, water use, chemical use, pollution generated, worker conditions and other ethical considerations.
🚚 Transportation stage – How are the materials distributed? Is it local or is it being freighted across the world? What type of packaging is being used to protect the material?
🔄 User stage – Is the material single use or can it be reused? Is it durable? Does it require upkeep?
♻️ End of life stage – What happens when the material is no longer wanted or needed? Can it be composted or recycled? Or is it destined for landfill? Has circularity been designed into the product from the beginning?
What about an unsustainable material?
We can use the opposite of the above points. Generally speaking, unsustainable materials are much easier to identify.
Here are unsustainable traits to avoid when selecting a material:
How to create an unsustainable material:
❌ Fossil fuel based or from a non-renewable resource
❌ Requires a high amount of energy to be extracted, processed and/or manufactured
❌ Involves high uses of water and chemicals
❌ Generates environmentally harmful pollution and excessive waste
❌ Poor and unethical working conditions
❌ Uses plastic packaging
❌ High emission transportation choices
❌ Short lifespan or single use material
❌ Not compostable, recyclable or reusable, so ends up in landfill
Materials Guide: Assessing sustainability
With that base information in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular materials you can buy and use.
For each material we’ll take a brief look at four stages: resource/raw materials, production and manufacturing, user stage and end of life. I’ve omitted transport stage as this will vary from business to business, but we’ll comment if the material is generally located and manufactured in one part of the world.
We’ll then categorise each material. Please note, there will be added nuance for each material, depending on how is manufacturing it and some of the ingredients and processes used. But to give you a rule of thumb on the sustainability, each material will be categorised as either:
✅ Highly Sustainable
🟡 Not Very Sustainable
🔴 Not Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Acrylic is a type of thermoplastic. It relies on fossil fuels to source its raw materials, which are then used to power the polymerisation process.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Acrylic production is responsible for the extraction of fossil fuels, which release significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Acrylic is created by mixing a liquid monomer (most commonly the chemical methyl methacrylate) with a catalyst, like a peroxide, to create a polymer.
Lifecycle analysis studies have found that acrylic manufacturing has a large and detrimental impact on the environment. In better news, bio-based plastic acrylic is in the process of being developed.
🔄 User stage: Due to being a high strength, lightweight, durable material, acrylic is found in tonnes of products. Plexiglass/perspex, paints, lenses, stick-on nails, medical devices and plastic cases. Acrylic fibre is also one of the most in-demand materials in the fast-fashion industry.
♻️ End of life stage: Acrylic is not biodegradable or compostable. Technically speaking, acrylic is recyclable. However, acrylic cannot be recycled easily from your own home. To recycle acrylic, you’ll have to use a specialist waste management service. The recycling advice is different depending on the type of acrylic, so you’ll have to check the plastic resin code to see if and how it can be recycled.
Verdict: 🔴 Not Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Aluminium is refined from the ore bauxite, a sedimentary rock. Australia is the largest producer of bauxite, followed by Guinea, China and Brazil. As bauxite is mainly found near the surface, it’s strip mined rather deep mined.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Aluminium is made via a two-step process. First, bauxite ore is refined to create aluminium oxide (the Bayer process). Extracting aluminium from bauxite ore requires a great deal of energy. More often than not, this comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Aluminium production creates hazardous waste. This includes both toxic fumes causing air pollution and liquid waste that can contaminate water supplies.
Secondly, aluminium oxide is smelted to create pure aluminium (the Hall-Heroult process).
🔄 User stage: Aluminium is a popular and versatile material. From kitchen foil and beer bottle tops, to large pieces used for cars and planes, aluminium can be found everywhere. In industry, aluminium tends to be reused, but for the consumer, it’s often a single use item that gets recycled (hopefully).
♻️ End of life stage: There is an environmental cost to mining aluminium but once it’s out of the ground and been made into a product, it’s continuously recyclable and reusable without losing its quality. In fact, around 75% of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.
Recycling aluminium also requires far less energy than creating new aluminium, so it’s much more environmentally friendly. It’s even possible for aluminium recycling and processing plants to be powered with renewable energy.
If aluminium isn’t recycled and ends up in landfill, environmental hazards can be created. Unlike stainless steel, aluminium is reactive and will release harmful chemicals into the soil and ground water.
Verdict: 🟢 Sustainable (recycled aluminium)
🌳 Resource stage: Coconut wax comes from the ‘meat’ of the coconut. It can also be made from hydrogenated coconut oil. This is an all-natural and renewable resource. Growing coconuts requires very little water and no pesticides or herbicides, making for one of the least polluting crops.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Coconut wax is made by cold-pressing the inner white coconut flesh. This involves grinding it into fine flakes and extracting the flesh using a press at temperatures below 50C (usually between 20C and 40C).
The addition of soy wax or other vegetable waxes, like rapeseed wax, is sometimes a necessary addition to create a solid and heat-resistant product. This is because coconut oil will melt at above room temperatures.
The wax is naturally odourless and colourless, making it quite easy to dye and turn into simple scentless candles.
🔄 User stage: Coconut wax can be used to create candles, as well as skincare products like moisturisers and makeup remover.
♻️ End of life stage: Coconut wax is fully biodegradable and compostable. It will leave no trace and the burning of coconut candles doesn’t release any carbon dioxide.
Verdict: 🟢 Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Glass can be made from virgin materials, such as sand (the second most used natural resource on Earth), limestone and soda ash. But importantly, glass can also be manufactured from recycled glass. This is much more sustainable.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Making virgin glass requires a high temperature furnace (1,700oC) to melt the materials together. This uses a lot of energy.
Recycled glass requires much lower temperatures and can reduce energy requirements by 20%. Producing recycled glass has been found to reduce related air pollution by 20% and related water pollution by a whopping 50%.
All glass is heavy, which increases the carbon emissions associated with transportation.
🔄 User stage: Glass is strong, duruble, highly reusable and easy to clean. Of course, it’s prone to breaking if dropped or not treated carefully.
♻️ End of life stage: Glass is infinitely recyclable. This means it can be recycled again and again without any loss in quality. An issue is that coloured glass has to be recycled with glass of a similar colour to keep the quality high of the recycled product.
Verdict: 🟢 Sustainable (especially recycled glass)
🌳 Resource stage: Hemp fibres are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. This is a quick growing plant known for reaching maturity in as little as 80 days. It’s also known for its other uses…
Hemp plants can grow in a variety of climates and soil conditions. Most hemp is now grown in Canada and China.
Industrial hemp is a low impact, sustainable crop. It requires little water to grow, takes up less land and produces a high yield per hectare (double that of cotton and with roughly a third of the water use).
Hemp doesn’t necessarily need pesticides and herbicides to grow either as it is an invasive weed in itself. Inherently resistant to most pests, hemp can be grown organically without much effort and added costs for farmers.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Once harvested, the hemp fibres are separated through a process called retting. This breaks down the pectins that bind the fibres to the plant’s stem. The process can be carried out chemically through the addition of enzymes or organically, using methods like field retting. When all the fibres are separated from stalks and stems, they are spun together to produce yarn, not unlike what you’d see in the wool-making process.
Raw hemp fabric is known for being quite tough and even abrasive on the skin. So, if the fabric is to be used in the clothing industry, it will usually be softened through either chemical processing or organic methods. Organic processing uses biodegradable softening solutions as opposed to synthetic ones. The finishing process might also involve dyeing the fabric, depending on what it will be used for.
🔄 User stage: Hemp is a versatile plant that can be used in many different industries. This includes the textiles and fashion industry, to paper making, shoes, bioplastics and even building materials.
As a durable fibre, hemp is highly reusable and will last many years.
♻️ End of life stage: Hemp is also a sustainable fibre when it comes to curbing landfill pollution. Hemp bioplastic can easily be recycled once the product reaches the end of its life. It can actually continue to be recycled indefinitely.
Hemp is also fully biodegradable as long as no synthetic fibres and softening chemicals have been added to the raw material. Look out for organic hemp fibre, and you’ll even be able to compost it.
Hemp-based bioplastics are also biodegradable, taking as little as 3 months to decompose in the right environment.
Verdict: ✅ Highly Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Jute is a type of plant belonging to the Corchorus genus. Jute is in the same family as cotton, cacao and okra. Jute can also be known as burlap.
Jute is an incredibly efficient plant to grow, reaching maturity in just four to six months. The plant’s efficient fast growth also means that jute crops will require a lot less land for cultivation. This results in lower levels of deforestation and habitat disruption. The biggest producers of jute fibre are India, China and Bangladesh. As the plant thrives in humid, tropical areas without the need for fertilisers and pesticides, jute can easily be grown in an organic way.
Jute production can improve soil health. According to some estimates, one hectare of jute plants can absorb around 15 tons of carbon dioxide and release 11 tonnes of oxygen, all during just a single harvest season.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: The jute fabric is made by soaking the jute plant stems in water, stripping the core fibre, then blending the fibres together. This processing stage is not resource-intensive.
Once the fibres are created, they are spun and woven into a fabric. The finished yarn is tough and durable, with a rustic coarse look and a signature roughness.
🔄 User stage: Jute is an incredibly durable material that’s also very flexible. Jute has long been used for creating furniture pieces like rugs, carpets and lampshades. You’ll find jute used for tote bags, backpacks and handbags. In recent years it has been reimagined to become a sustainable fashion staple too.
♻️ End of life stage: Jute is a completely natural fibre that doesn’t require any chemical treatment during production. As it’s 100% chemical-free and made from natural materials, pure jute is a recyclable and biodegradable fabric. In the right conditions, jute will naturally bio-degrade in one to two years.
Make sure you look at the fine print to see if jute has been blended with any other treated fabric. For example, jute clothes are likely to be blended with conventional cotton, polyester and acrylic to enhance texture and durability, all of which can impact its biodegradable properties.
Verdict: ✅ Highly Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Linen is a natural fibre that comes from the flax plant. This makes linen a renewable type of material. Flax plants are grown in many different parts of the world. Much of the bulk flax production is done in Eastern Europe and China, but better quality flax plants are grown in Ireland, Italy, Belgium and the US, as well as other parts of Western Europe and India.
Flax plants use significantly less water, pesticides and fertilisers than other natural fibre plants, such as cotton. In its lifetime, a cotton shirt uses 2,700 litres of water. Compare this to a linen shirt, which uses just 6.4 litres!
The flax is a resilient plant that can grow on poor soils and in organic conditions.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Linen fibre is obtained from a series of processing techniques done to the flax plant including retting (a fermentation process), drying, crushing and beating. The result is a breathable fabric that releases moisture easily and feels cool to wear.
On the downside, linen goes through an intensive bleaching process to achieve a pure white look. Sticking to more natural tones of linen are better than choosing whites or dyed linen clothes. During the processing of the flax plant, everything gets used and there’s very little waste. For example, linseed oil also comes out of the flax plant processing.
Although the flax plant is mainly grown in Western Europe (85% of total linen produced comes from here), it was found that Europe exported 77% of the flax crop in 2019 to be processed in China. This means that by the time the linen garment is in your hands, it has travelled twice across the world producing twice as many shipping emissions.
🔄 User stage: Linen is a popular material for clothing because of its comfortable and natural feel. For the same reasons, it’s also really popular for bed sheets, tablecloths and towels.
♻️ End of life stage: When it is not treated or dyed, linen is fully biodegradable. Pure natural linen can naturally decompose in around 2 weeks! But most of the linen we use has been treated and dyed too.
Linen that has been well cared for can last a lot longer than cotton. Linen dries faster than cotton and is a much stronger fibre.
Verdict: 🟢 Sustainable (look out for sustainable certifications like Masters of linen, Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified linen or USDA organic)
MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard)
🌳 Resource stage: MDF is sourced from both hardwood and softwood. It’s not the primary use of the wood, instead MDF makes use of the waste products. The waste wood is chipped down to go through the manufacturing process.
The majority of MDF manufacturers tend to go for the North American native tree, Radiata Pine. Other pine species and poplar are also common.
Not all MDF manufacturers make their panels from true leftover wood materials. Sometimes, pines and spruce that are too small or too thin for logging are used instead. This use of virgin wood logs isn’t environmentally friendly. However, the vast majority of MDF is still made from recycled waste materials collected from sawmills.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: MDF is a type of composite, engineered wood panel made from sawdust and wood shavings. Firstly, the raw material used to create MDF comes from the waste products of hardwood and softwood. This aspects of MDF is sustainable.
The wood fibres are broken down into residual fibres via a machine-based refining process. The fibres are then combined with paraffin wax and resin for binding. After this, it’s then pressed into sturdy sheets using pressure and heat. The resin used to bind wood particles together comes from different sources. However, in bad news for the environment, the resin is often a formaldehyde-based one, such as urea-formaldehyde resin glue.
🔄 User stage: MDF is a popular and go-to man-made wood. It’s now used for all sorts of home decor. MDF is a lot more affordable than its man-made wood cousin, plywood. It’s also smoother, denser, more flexible and more consistent throughout.
MDF is not as durable as natural wood, meaning that you’ll usually have to dispose of your item, for example furniture, after a few years (usually around ten to fifteen years).
♻️ End of life stage: The use of synthetic resin glue means MDF is only recyclable in a specialist facility, such as MDF recovery. These are few and far between. The use of synthetic glue does mean that MDF is not biodegradable. This means the vast majority of MDF will be incinerated or landfilled.
If technology changes and MDF can be created using 100% plant-based adhesives, it would be recyclable and potentially biodegradable.
Verdict: 🟡 Not Very Sustainable (because of the synthetic glue)
🌳 Resource stage: Nylon is an entirely synthetic polymer fibre created in the laboratory by the DuPont company in 1938. Nylon is essentially a type of thermoplastic that’s made with crude oil.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Nylon is created from the polymer PA 6, which is made by extracting oil from a monomer known as hexamethylenediamine and then reacting with adipic acid. The extraction and reaction process forms a crystalline substance in the form of a nylon sheet, which is then melted down through several small holes to harden and stretch it further. These stretched nylon strands are then used to create nylon fabric.
The whole process to create nylon is incredibly energy-intensive.
🔄 User stage: Whether it’s your toothbrush, umbrella, knitwear, gym wear, swimming costume or plenty of other everyday items, nylon is everywhere. One of the few environmental benefits to nylon when it’s being used is that it’s durable and reusable. Although this comes to its detriment for nylon items like fishing nets, which cause big environmental problems. nylon is responsible for 10 percent of the waste found in our seas.
With nylon clothing, machine washing causes large amounts of microplastics to be released into waterways.
♻️ End of life stage: Nylon is non-biodegradable, but it is recyclable. Most recycled nylon is actually produced from discarded fishing nets.
Verdict: 🔴 Not Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Plywood is an engineered wood product that can be made using softwood or hardwood. The most popular trees to make plywood with are Cedar, Beech, Pine, Douglas Fir, Oak and Birch. The source of the trees can differ. To be as sustainable as possible, you’ll want the plywood to come from sustainably managed forests (FSC).
Birch-made plywood is one of the most popular woods to use. This is because birch is a fast-growing, widespread northern European tree. The fact that birch is a native tree and often grown in the UK makes it one of the more sustainable plywood choices.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Trees are cut down and sent to a processing plant. The logs are chopped into blocks, heated and soaked in water to make them softer. The wood blocks are then taken to the peeler lathe – this rotates the block onto a sharp cutting blade where a continuous sheet is peeled off. This is known as a veneer, which are put into a dryer to reduce their moisture content.
Once dry, the veneers can then be glued together to form plywood. They are usually glued in three or five-ply sheets where each layer is rotated at 90o to the layer underneath. Finally the sheets are loaded into a hot press to fully cure the adhesive.
It’s the glue that is the main problem here. The glue used for plywood is a chemical-heavy synthetic resin. Many plywood glues are made from formaldehyde, polyvinyl acetate and other phenols. Making these glues is a polluting heavy process. It’s possible to get plywood glued together with a more eco-based adhesive, such as with soy-based glues, which is better news.
🔄 User stage: From roofing and walls to household interiors and stylish furniture, the uses of plywood are far reaching. It’s a very durable product and should give the user years, if not decades, of use. This is a major sustainable bonus.
♻️ End of life stage: The use of chemical resin glue means the natural wood is no longer biodegradable or compostable. Even soy-based glues still contain harsh chemicals.
Plywood can be recycled but it’s classed as a B form of wood. This means it has been treated and is no longer a fully natural product. To recycle plywood, it needs to be separated from other forms of wood. Once separated it can then be shredded and repackaged to be used again. However, plywood’s secondary uses are limited due to strength issues and a less efficient recycling process. This often means that waste plywood is burned for energy or dumped in landfill.
Verdict: 🟡 Not Very Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Polystyrene is a type of plastic polymer. You may also know it as Styrofoam, which is a brand name for a type of expanded polystyrene, or EPS. Polystyrene is a synthetic material made from aromatic hydrocarbons – in simple English, polystyrene is made from fossil fuels that are collected from deep within the Earth. This is not a sustainable raw material.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: The primary raw material used to make polystyrene is benzene, a natural chemical found in crude oil, coal and natural gas. Benzene is treated with ethylene and after a number of other highly intensive, industrial processes, you end up with styrene. Many of these are bonded together to form poly-styrene.
This process requires a lot of energy and releases mega amounts of pollutants and emissions into the atmosphere.
🔄 User stage: There are all sorts of use for polystyrene. From forms of home insulation (lasts a long time, durable and plays a sustainable role) to single use items such as takeaway packaging that end up in landfill.
♻️ End of life stage: Polystyrene is not compostable or biodegradable, but it is technically recyclable. The problem is that it’s difficult for the consumer to recycle polystyrene from home. First it has to be ‘uncontaminated’ i.e. be clean of food, paint etc. It then needs to be sent off to a specialist recycling facility that can handle polystyrene. There aren’t many about.
So, just a fraction of a single percentage of the total polystyrene produced is recycled each year. Of the polystyrene that does get recycled, it can be used to make plastic garden furniture, toys, plant pots, plastic planks and clothes hangers.
As a plastic, polystyrene will leach microplastics into the environment.
Verdict: 🔴 Not Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: There are two types of resin: natural and synthetic. Natural resin originates from plants and animals. In plants, it’s a type of defense mechanism to protect from insects and pathogens. Trees like pine and fir produce resin, as well as soy bean, aloe vera and many others. You can get animal resin too. Shellac or lac, which forms a part of varnish, is derived from the lac insect.
Mimicking this natural substance, most commercial resins are now made synthetically and on a vast scale. Synthetic resin comes from chemical manufacturing. This is predominantly some form of plastic.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: For this stage, we’ll focus on synthetic resins. To make synthetic resins, crude oil is heated up to high temperatures so that it breaks into individual units called monomers. These monomers are then put through various chemical processes to form resin. The process causes air pollution, groundwater contamination and land surface disturbances to name a few. When resins dry out and cure, they transform into hard, rigid polymers. These can be transparent or treated with a dye.
Resins are categorised according to their chemical composition. They can be grouped into categories such as polyester resins, phenolic, silicone, epoxy and polyethylene.
🔄 User stage: Resin is super durable. It’s a popular material for tabletops and counters, as well as laminate flooring, driveways, pathways and other very hard-wearing surfaces. It can also be used for artwork and jewellery. Lots of uses because of how long it generally lasts for.
♻️ End of life stage: Natural resin on its own is not harmful to the environment. Its organic composition means it will biodegrade easily. However, even natural resins are usually combined with non-biodegradable materials. The other problem major is that most resin produced in the world is synthetic, created by refining fossil fuels.
Resins like polyurethane, epoxy and silicone resins can technically be recycled, but it’s extremely complicated to recycle thermoset resins.
Verdict: 🔴 Not Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: There are two main types of rubber used: natural rubber and synthetic rubber.
Natural rubber comes from trees and plants. There are as many as 200 plants known to produce latex, which is used to create natural rubber, but the vast majority comes from the rubber tree. The rubber tree can be grown and harvested in a very sustainable manner without the need for deforestation.
Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, is made using petrochemicals like petroleum and natural gas. , employing a process called vulcanisation.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: In order to create rubber from latex, manufacturers have to create a reaction with acid to promote coagulation, dry the mixture in slabs and process it through with mechanical rollers to make it more pliable. At the end of this stage, sulphur is added to the material and the raw rubber is cooked in an autoclave to produce the final product.
To make synthetic rubber, industry uses a process called vulcanisation. hydrocarbon mixture derived from petrochemicals is combined with natural gases to create different types of synthetic rubber polymers. The most common synthetic rubber today is Neoprene.
Tree-derived natural rubber is considered a more sustainable option than fossil fuel synthetic rubber.
🔄 User stage: From our car tires, medical equipment and flooring to balloons, household gloves and the soles of our shoes, rubber permeates everyday life. This is because of it’s versatility, elasticity and durability. And it’s the durability that is the main sustainability benefit to rubber. It can last many, many years, and even decades.
♻️ End of life stage: Rubber products aren’t biodegradable or compostable, but they can generally be recycled. This is true for bigger items, such as tires. Rubber can be recycled into new products and used alongside virgin rubber sources. Common ways in which recycled rubber can be used is for new tires, the flooring for playgrounds, in gym flooring, driveways, pathways and shoes.
Verdict: 🟡 Not Very Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: The primary raw material to make silicone comes from quartz sand, sometimes known as silica sand. Quartz, or silicon dioxide, is one of the most common materials in the Earth’s crust. To get enough sand to make silicone, it’s surface-mined in open sand pit operations across the world. Sand is one of the most traded commodities in the world, being used to make concrete and glass.
To make silicone, you also need hydrocarbons. These are primarily sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels, such as crude oil, coal and gas.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Creating silicone is an energy intensive process. Here’s a quick summary. Firstly, large volumes of quartz sand is heated to extremely high temperatures (in excess of 1800oC). It’s at this point where hydrocarbons, such as coal, are added. The carbon from the coal (or another carbon source) reacts with the oxygen, which releases carbon dioxide as a by-product. What’s left is then a liquid-like, molten-hot silicon mixture.
The mixture undergoes several more processes of combination, heating, distillation and polymerisation, before you end up with a silicone compound (sometimes known as silicone rubber). Once you get silicone rubber, it can then be moulded and coloured into almost any shape and size and the final product is set.
🔄 User stage: The uses of silicone have grown exponentially since it was developed in the 1940s. From food containers, kitchen utensils and parts of water bottles, to sealant, medical devices, lubricants and as a component in computer microchips (Silicon Valley, anyone?). Silicone is everywhere.
Silicone does have a few sustainable points and benefits to it:
– Non-reactive with other chemicals and substances.
– Resistant to extreme environments and temperatures without altering state – silicone operates in exactly the same way in at -55oC environment as it does in a 300oC environment.
– Low toxicity and hypoallergenic.
– Durable, making it highly reusable
♻️ End of life stage: A silicone product should last many years. When you’re finished with it, silicone is not biodegradable but it is recyclable. However, it’s a more difficult material to recycle and can’t be put in own of your local council recycling bins. Silicone needs to be treated at a specialist facility.
Silicone isn’t infinitely recyclable, like glass for example. The best that can be done with recycled silicone is to create silicone oils that are used in the manufacturing and car industry as lubricants, coolants and refrigerants.
Verdict: 🟡 Not Very Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: Silk is a natural, animal-derived fibre. Silk is produced by insects, mainly silkworms. The vast majority of silk textiles on the market are derived from the cocoon of the domesticated Bombyx mor. Fibroin is the main protein that gives silk its structure and strength.
China is the biggest producer of silk, followed by India, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Iran.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Silk fibres are created by silkworms as they make their cocoon. Once the larvae are in their cocoons, the silk fibres are harvested by boiling the structure in hot water and unravelling the cocoon’s threads. This does kill the silkworm larvae. You can source silk that skips the boiling process by allowing the larvae to come out and transform into silkmoths before harvesting the discarded cocoon.
The threads are reeled into longer threads, washed, bleached and dried. After this, the silk fibre is immersed into a dye bath to soak in the desired colour. Finally, the threads are spun and woven into textiles.
According to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, silk has a high environmental impact. This is caused by the use of bleach, dye baths, water use and high energy usage. A lot of energy is used on air conditioning and humidity control to keep the silkworms in the most optimal conditions.
🔄 User stage: Silk is a strong and durable material used for clothes and accessories. Because of these features, silk can also be used for parachutes and surgical stitches. When a silk product is well-kept, it should last a long time without needing to be replaced. This is a benefit of silk.
♻️ End of life stage: In its raw form, silk is biodegradable and compostable. But before you put your silk in the compost pile, you need to make sure it’s been dyed with natural dyes, instead of synthetic dyes.
Verdict: 🟡 Not Very Sustainable
🌳 Resource stage: As you know, wool primarily comes from the shearing of sheep. You can also get wool from other mammals, including goats, alpacas, llamas and rabbits. So, determining whether wool is sustainable and ethical depends on how the animals are treated.
🏭 Manufacturing and production stage: Animals are kept on farms where they grow a nice thick coat over winter to keep them warm. When it gets warmer, their coats are sheared and the wool is obtained. The emissions and environmental impact from wool comes from the keeping of animals. This includes the conversion of land from natural habitat into farmland and the potential use of chemicals and fertilisers (although it is possible to produce organic wool).
Once the animals’ coat is sheared, the wool fibres then go through a series of processing stages to get the yarn ready. This includes washing, scouring and dyeing.
🔄 User stage: Jumpers, scarfs and socks, wool is a popular material to use for clothing and accessories. Wool has a number of things going for it: it’s warm, comfortable and durable. This means that a wool item can be reused for many years. It’s possible to upcycle wool too into items like cushions.
♻️ End of life stage: When your wool products can no longer be used, swapped, recycled or upcycled, it may be possible for them to biodegrade. This depends on how the wool fibres have been treated and with what dyes etc. If synthetic dyes and artificial protectors have been used, the wool may not be biodegradable anymore. 100% natural wool fibre items may be compostable.
Verdict: 🟢 Sustainable (go for recycled wool where possible)