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Impact of Materials

Blog
13/08/2019
All building materials have an impact on the environment
The environmental impact of a product is determined by:
- the raw materials use + where they come from
- chemicals used, their toxicity + quantity
- the amount of energy + water used to process it
- how the material is disposed of at the end of its life
The major positive + negative aspects for each material type are summarised below
Wool
Natural Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Rapidly-renewable resource
+ Abundant local sources are available
+ Sheep can graze on dry, unusable land
+ Fibre is used in its least-processed state
+ Able to absorb + retain VOCs
+Naturally fire retardant + antistatic
+ Easily cleanable
+ Biodegradable, reusable + recyclable
+ Holistic sheep farming practices can positively impact on degraded land  Negative Aspects
- Pesticides + fertilisers are often used
- Farming can degrade land
- Scouring can consume large amounts of water + chemicals + produce polluted wastewater
- Insect-resist / mothproofing treatments may cause health problems as well as producing effluent, toxic to aquatic life
- Often involves the use of heavy-metal dyes
Cotton
Natural Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Rapidly-renewable resource
+ Local sources are available
+ Fibre is used in its least-processed state
+ Able to absorb + retain VOCs
+ Biodegradable, reusable + recyclable  Negative Aspects
- Use of large qty of insecticides + fertilisers
- Use of aerial spraying spreads chemicals widely into the environment
- Intensive farming can lead to land degradation
- Can use large amounts of water for irrigation
- Use of hazardous defoliants to removes the leaves from the plants
Flax, Ramie + Hemp
Natural Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Rapidly-renewable resource
+ Can grow with virtually no fertilisers or water
+ Fibre is used in its least-processed state
+ If the plant is cut by hand and left to ret, then the environmental impact is minimal
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- Mechanical methods of harvesting have adverse effects on the environment
- Retting process produces highly polluting wastewater
- Use of enzymes + water increases biochemical oxygen (BOD) + eutrophication of waterways
Silk
Natural Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Rapidly-renewable resource
+ Fibre is used in its least-processed state
+ Can grow with virtually no insecticides + fertilisers
+ Wild (tussah) silk production involves minimal interference with nature
+ Naturally flame retardant
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- No local source available for commercial use
- Commercially cultivated silk is resource intensive as atmosphere is controlled with rigid growth conditions
- Steaming to extract silk fibres can kill the chrysalis
- Polluted wastewater from cleaning with chemicals is usually discharged to ground water
Natural Bamboo
Natural Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Rapidly-renewable resource
+ Can grow with virtually no fertilisers or water
+ Fibre is used in its least-processed state
+ If the plant is cut by hand and left to ret, then the environmental impact is minimal
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- No local sources available for commercial use
- Mechanical methods of harvesting have adverse effects on the environment
- Retting process produces highly polluting wastewater
- Use of enzymes + water increases biochemical oxygen (BOD) + eutrophication of waterways
Leather
Natural Material  Positive Aspects
+ Leather is an agricultural byproduct of the meat industry
+ Leather is used in its least processed state
+ Aniline leather is the most natural + least processed of all the leather types
+ Leather is long lasting
+ Aniline + Semi-Aniline leathers will look + fell better over time
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- Check where rawhides are sourced as certain countries do not follow animal welfare practices
- Corrected Grain involved the most processing of all leather types
- Hazardous substances such as chromium III + chromium VI (banned) can be used during the tanning process
- Wastewater can contain organic material + traces of chemicals such as chromium
Manmade Bamboo
Man Made Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Renewable (bamboo pulp) resource
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- No local sources available
- Bamboo grown intensively in inappropriate areas can cause soil degradation + erosion
- Mechanical methods of harvesting can have adverse effects on the environment
- Water retting produces highly polluting wastewater
- Can generate highly-polluting air + water emissions
- Processing with catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese cause strong, unpleasant odour
Rayon, Viscose + Acetate
Man Made Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Renewable (purified wood pulp) resource
+ Reusable + biodegradable  Negative Aspects
- No local sources available
- Wood grown intensively in inappropriate areas can cause soil degradation + erosion
- Can generate highly-polluting air + water emissions
- Processing with catalytic agents containing cobalt or manganese cause strong, unpleasant odour
Polyester (PET)
Synthetic Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Technically recyclable if the infrastructure exists  Negative Aspects
- Non-renewable resource
- No local sources available
- Long line of processing
- Often involves use of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, arsenic + heavy metals including antimony
- Allergy-provoking dyes + carriers are added
- Energy + water intensive
- Non-degradable
- No recycling infrastructure for fabrics
Olefin
Synthetic Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Lower-embodied energy compared to other synthetic fibres  Negative Aspects
- Non-renewable resource
- No local sources available
- Long line of processing
- Use of carcinogenic chemicals such as lead-based pigments
- Use of additives such as anti-oxidants, UV stabilisers + flame retardants
- Energy + water intensive
- Non-degradable
- No recycling infrastructure
Nylon
Synthetic Fibre  Negative Aspects
- Non-renewable resource
- No local sources available
- Long line of processing
- Many carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene + hydrogen cyanide has (nylon 6, 6) are added
- Processing creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 296 time greater than carbon dioxide towards global warming
- High-embodied energy compared to other synthetic fabrics
- Energy + water intensive
- Non-degradable
- No recycling infrastructure
Acrylic
Synthetic Fibre
Vinyl (polyvinylchloride PVC)
Synthetic Fibre  Positive Aspects
+ Lower-embodied energy compared to other synthetic fibres  Negative Aspects
- Non-renewable resource
- No local sources available
- Long line of processing
- Use of carcinogenic chemicals such as phthalates, which are known as endocrine disrupters
- Processing produces dioxins, which are highly toxic carcinogenic substances + major health risk because they persist in the environment + in mammals
- Non-degradable
- Harmful to the environment after disposal