Jute is a natural fiber used in many applications. It's making its way particularly in the fashion industry where designers and brands slowly adopt jute for their collections.
Jute is a very sustainable material. It's an amazing environmentally friendly alternative that decreases the ecological footprint of our purchases. It's biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. Jute is also the longest and one of the cheapest natural fibers.
Jute fabric is the most widely used natural material after cotton for various applications. It gives many different types of products, including clothing, a natural look, and feel.
The fashion industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. It contributes massively to global warming with more than 8% of all carbon emissions globally each year. It's also responsible for huge water consumption, pollution, and waste.
Read up my article on the fashion industry's catastrophic contribution to climate change to learn more about this issue.
Jute fabric is a great solution to reduce freshwater consumption and pollution in textile manufacturing. It also helps fight plastic waste and microfiber pollution.
The Higg Sustainable Material Index gives jute a total impact score of 60, which is much lower than 90 for cotton. Its water scarcity score is 5.5, almost 10 times lower than 50.4 for cotton.
The global production of cotton is 30.3 million tons each year. Cotton is the most widespread fiber for apparel and textiles. But it's terrible and extremely wasteful.
Organic farming can potentially save 218 billion liters of water and 92.5 million kg of carbon dioxide. Check out my article on the case for organic cotton and see how it fares against conventional cotton.
Jute is mainly made of cellulose and lignin, the principal components of plant and wood fiber respectively.
Jute fiber is collected from the bast or skin of plants, just like other natural fibers such as hemp, linen, or ramie. Different botanical varieties of jute produce several types of jute.
Jute is one of the most affordable natural fibers. It is harvested in single long strings, 1 to 4 meters long with a diameter from 17 to 20 microns. Jute is one of the longest natural textile fibers.
Jute isn't very popular in the western world compared to East Asian countries like China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It's a very versatile fabric widely used for bags, packaging, luggage, wallets, filters, geotextiles, decorative items, home furnishings, cordage, and clothing.
A large proportion of jute production (more than 99%) takes place in these countries. India is the largest producer of jute globally with about 1.95 million tons produced in 2018, followed by Bangladesh (1.61 million tons) and China (30,497 tons).
Find out more about jute fibers' origin and production in my article on jute for clothing.
Jute bags make a prominent option instead of plastic bags. But their demand is relatively low in developed countries as they are still more expensive to produce than plastic bags.
Plastic bags are getting banned all around the world. The green movement is booming. Consumers are asking for more eco-friendly and sustainable products. So jute is rising in popularity.
Disposable plastic bags have a disastrous environmental impact. The world is experiencing a severe plastic waste crisis. Too much plastic is being produced and waste is poorly managed.
359 million tons of plastic are produced each year globally. It's a lot more than 1.5 million tons in 1950. Too much plastic creates waste, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and health risks.
Jute has a lot of benefits. It's not only strong, durable, breathable, lightweight but also has a very low environmental impact.
Jute plants, Corchorus olitorius (Tossa jute) and Corchorus capsularis (White jute), generally grow with rainfalls and without man-made pesticides or fertilizers.
But like many other natural fibers, jute yarn is often subject to bleaching, dyeing in many colors or chemical treatment to make it water repellant before being sent to textile producers.
Jute fibers are also commonly blended with other natural or synthetic fibers which makes them difficult to recycle.
Cotton blends make jute fabrics soft, shiny, and smooth, ideal for clothing design and production in the fashion industry. Jute is also blended with manufactured fibers like polyester, nylon, rayon, acrylic, or polypropylene.
If used alone, jute is often too harsh on the skin for garment production. But the development of softening techniques will make jute more comfortable. Jute is ideal for jackets, sweaters, and pullovers but rarely used for clothes that come in direct contact with the skin.
Luckily, jute fiber is biodegradable and compostable. It doesn't release hazardous gases in the atmosphere when decomposing or burnt as opposed to many synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon.
Read up my sustainable synthetic fabrics list to learn more about the different alternatives to polluting man-made textiles.
We are on the brink of a global environmental crisis. As the demand for sustainable materials increases, jute is bound to have a bright future in the textile and apparel industry.
Many projects are ongoing to develop and optimize the industrialization of jute for various applications. Their goal is to help jute become more prominent in international markets and increase their awareness of jute fibers' qualities.
Jute offers a high crop yield and growth efficiency. It absorbs tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releases more oxygen than most trees.
One hectare of jute plants can absorb up to 15 tons of carbon dioxide and release 11 tons of oxygen over 120 days during the growing season between April and August. Jute farming also improves soil quality and fertility for future crops, such as rice, which is regularly grown in the same area.
Most jute producers are self-governing and regionally owned. Unfortunately, the very large majority of their products are sold locally and aren't exported to developed countries.
Some jute producers are owned by corporations and subject to unethical conditions. Abuse and exploitation are going on in the textile and apparel industry.
Fashion brands and retailers often overwork local communities without giving back and promote unsustainable production methods.
Check out my article on fashion brands that still use sweatshop labor and read about the unfortunate condition of many workers in textile and garment factories.
Check the origin of the raw materials before purchasing any jute product. It's a great idea to buy products from independent companies using natural and organic production methods.
Jute is a natural plant-based fiber and is eligible for organic certification. Read up my article on the best eco-certification standards for textiles to understand what you should be looking for.
Overall, jute is extremely sustainable. Its environmental benefits are immense. It doesn't pollute the nearby environment and doesn't make any waste. Jute is a very sound eco-friendly alternative.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.