Purchasing products made from sustainable materials is vital for renewing our resources and protecting our world-wide ecological systems. Below are three examples of incredibly versatile natural materials that will enhance your life and respect the environment. You can further increase your eco-friendliness by choosing which material is optimal for which purpose, i.e., clothing, accessories, food, décor, etc.
It’s a layer of bark harvested from cork oak trees that can live up to a few centuries in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It’s sustainable because it’s not necessary to fell the whole tree, so it continues growing and renewing more bark layers over several years. It’s also easily recycled (though not all consumers can throw their cork into their bins… yet?), and it’s great for repurposing. Cork can be reused in craft products or donated to charities that can recycle it.
We’re most familiar with cork from wine bottles. Because of its range of useful attributes like buoyancy, fire resistance, impermeability, sound absorption, and elasticity, it’s in a number of other products like boards, flooring, insulation, arts and crafts, heat shields in spacecrafts, and most fabulously, clothing and accessories. A prime example of the look and feel cork can have when fashioned into fabric is the collection of beautiful Eve Cork handbags and accessories. Their line is a glowing example of how luxurious sustainability can be. The fabric looks and feels like a soft and supple leather with none of the animal cruelty or dangerous chemicals used in tanning animal skins. They’re also completely vegan products, using organic liners, vegan glue, and all-natural vegetable dyes. As a bonus, they’re very forthcoming with their materials and labour processes.
It’s a variety of Cannabis sativa, one of the fastest growing plants, and its use as a textile fibre goes back 10,000 years. Hemp’s versatility allows for its use in a wide range of industrial products, fuel, and food. In clothing, it is often blended with other common fabrics like cotton and spandex. It can be used as an insulating building material, too. Hemp really shines as a food product because its nutrient-packed seeds can be consumed raw or ground into a protein powder. The leaves can also be eaten, and its oil is high in unsaturated fatty acids, a.k.a. ‘healthy fat’. It’s high in calories and a superior source of vegan protein. The seeds are a good source of B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and dietary fiber. It’s super easy to throw into smoothies and salads for supplementary nutrition.
Bamboo is a tricky one because, while it is technically sustainable, only some of its uses are environmentally-friendly. Others aren’t actually “all-natural”. It’s a perennial flowering plant in the grass family that grows in Asia, Australia, North and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a real grower with its peak regeneration rate at a few feet in just 24 hours (but, typically, a couple inches a day). It’s sustainable because of this incredible regrowth rate and, like cork, the plants aren’t destroyed, and regrowth is possible when harvested correctly. It’s long been used as a food ingredient, fuel, and construction material due to its good strength-to-weight ratio. Bamboo is lovely to eat in pan-Asian cuisines and creates some stylish furniture and home décor with a green flare.
Using modern processes, its fibre can also be made into a soft textile appropriate for clothing. However, in the U.S. and Canada, companies are being forced to change their labelling because bamboo fibre is actually made into rayon using a process with harmful chemicals. Workers can be exposed to carbon disulfide, which causes health problems upon repeated inhalation. So, if you’re looking for sustainable fashion that’s truly all-natural and eco-friendly, stick to cork or hemp.
Choose your sustainable materials wisely and for their best eco-friendly application. Cork is a fantastic fake leather, hemp is a super food, and bamboo is great for decoration.