Advantages of Natural fibers and their products
Updated: May 1, 2018
To carry on with Earth Day’s blog, I would like to write about the advantages of natural fibers and the positive environmental impact of using natural fiber products.
Generally, natural fibers can be categorized into plant fibers and animal fibers.
Plant fibers are derived from seed, leaf, bast, stalk, or fruit, whereas animal fibers can be obtained from animal’s hair or secretion. Examples of plant fibers are abaca, jute, cotton, flax, coir, bamboo, seagrass and more. Animal fibers are wool, cashmere, alpaca hair, mohair, silk, etc.
Since natural fibers are natural and contain no man-made materials, they are biodegradable, meaning they can be broken down by bacteria when no longer in use. For this reason alone, by using natural fiber products, we can create one less plastic to our precious Mother Earth. For Abaca, even the wastage from harvesting an abaca tree to weaving a carpet can be processed into organic fertilizer.
Unlike synthetic fibers, natural fibers require lesser energy and cost to process. As a renewable resource, the production requires little energy, CO2 is used while oxygen is given back to the environment. Research has also shown that production of abaca fiber uses about 60% less energy than production of glass fiber. This is one of the reasons why the automotive industry has used abaca as a substitute for glass fiber in automobile body parts.
Natural fibers are often processed in low-wage countries. It is a low investment and a low cost business, creating job opportunities for the locals as well as raising family income. In the Philippines, who is the world’s leading abaca producer, 90,000 small farmers are cultivating the plant and 1.5 million people are being employed for the production.
Notably, natural fibers is also prized for their acoustic and thermal insulating properties. And wool probably is top on the list among the other natural fibers. Wonder why wool products are widely sold in cold countries? Why wool are used in pianos, stereo speakers, and heavy machinery? Why people go for a wool carpet when they want their home to be cool in summer and warm in winter?
Furthermore, low density and specific weight allow it to have a higher specific strength and stiffness than glass. This is a benefit especially in parts designed for bending stiffness. Abaca is the alternative to glass fibers in automotive industry. In fact, Mercedes Benz has used a mixture of polypropylene thermoplastic and abaca yarn in automobile body parts.
Having the ecological advantages of renewable resources, natural fibers have become a new interest in many industries - automotive, clothing, and furniture. Nevertheless, as man-made products are fast, easy, and cheap to produce and get, the already challenging market for natural fibers products have become even more competitive. Next time when you buy a carpet, handbag, clothing, bedding, or furniture cover, opt for one that is made of natural fibers. We all can play a part in keeping the earth a better place to live for the next generation.
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