Is Linen Sustainable?

by: Rosie Dalton | 4 weeks ago | Features

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Linen is often considered a more sustainable fibre simply because it is ‘natural’. But is linen actually sustainable? The short answer is that not all linens are created equal.

One of the oldest known fibres, linen is a cellulose fabric that has traditionally been made from the stem of the flax plant. Flax uses less water and pesticides to grow than cotton and it is fully biodegradable when left untreated.

However, there are some other factors that can influence the sustainability of linen. First of all, when ‘treated’ or dyed from its natural colours – like ivory, ecru, tan and grey – linen does not biodegrade as easily. In addition to this, some linen fibres are actually blended, which can present issues as well.

Cotton linen, for example, could be a blend of organic cotton and linen, or it could contain conventional cotton – which is considered one of the dirtiest crops in the world. Taking up a fairly small percentage of the world’s land (an estimated 2.4%) these crops account for a disproportionately large percentage of the world’s toxic chemicals.

According to the Pesticide Action Network UK, conventional cotton still represents as much as 6% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides use globally. In addition to this, it takes about 290 gallons of water to grow enough conventional cotton to produce one T-shirt. 

So, if buying a blend, look for organic cotton linen or buy from a brand that uses 100% untreated flax linen instead. Alternatively, hemp linen also represents a more sustainable option. This fabric is made from hemp rather than flax, which is sustainable because hemp requires very little irrigation and actually adds biodiversity back into the soil.

A wonderful, versatile fabric that dates back to 8000BC – and was once used by the ancient Egyptians as a form of currency – linen is one of our favourite natural fibres. And, when responsibly produced, this fabric becomes an excellent staple for a well-made wardrobe.  

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