Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Is it (im)material?

A short post today, but I want to throw out a question I’ve been pondering: is natural always better than man-made? My gut reaction, my natural instinct is to go with the natural option every time, but a recent experience has me questioning that.

Recently, I wrote about a new purchase, a nightie to replace my favorite pajamas. After writing that post, I went to look at the tags and discovered that it was not cotton, as I would have expected, but something called modal. (Plus, it was made in China, which—darn it!—I was really trying to avoid, but then again so many of my cotton shirts are too.) Not being all that big on clothing, I had never heard of it. So, per my usual process, I decided to look it up.

Turns out modal is a textile created from the cellulose of beech trees. It has a lot of the same qualities as cotton, in terms of dyeing and washing, but is more resistant to shrinking, fading, and pilling. Lenzing, the company that makes it, also makes Tencel (which, I did not know, is made from wood pulp cellulose and is closely related to rayon). So it’s not entirely man-made, as in test tubes and chemicals, but they’re not entirely natural either.

In the little bit of research I’ve squeezed in so far, I discovered that Lenzing has been certified by the EU as environmentally friendly. Their press release makes the claim that the production of both Modal and Tencel is carbon neutral. Cotton on the other hand, at least the non-organic type, uses a huge number of truly horrific chemicals and chlorine bleach—so even if the fiber is natural, is the process?

More research to be done and issues to be weighed—I hope to dive a little deeper and make sense of the tangle of information. Or totally confuse myself in the process; we’ll see which it is.


jen said...

i would like to know what you learn...i have it in my head natural is best..but then we have to weigh how far the natural comes from to get to us as well.

i've never heard of modal..

Mad Hatter said...

I've often heard that cotton is dirty business unless it is natural and unbleached. I didn't know whay cotton was considered not the ideal fibre, though. Keep us posted on this. I'm now going to start checking labels. That is if I ever buy myself a new piece of clothing again. It's amazing how much motherhood as turned me into a drudge.

Lisa b said...

I had assumed modal was a synthetic. Very interesting. Seems like the paper or plastic issue.