- I haven’t been able to devote the amount of time I’d like to the research aspect.
- Most of the information I’ve been able to find is provided by the industry in question—not exactly unbiased.
Nonetheless, I will give you an idea of what I have found and what I find myself thinking.
First off, let me expose my incredible ignorance. This is very embarrassing, but, hey, at least I learned something from my research! For whatever reason, I had always pictured cotton being picked off of trees. Not incredibly tall trees or anything, but definitely trees. When I found out the Modal is made from beech trees that have been cut down, I told myself that was one advantage for cotton; if the cotton trees were left standing, that would mean they would continue to put oxygen into the air outside of the growing season and the earth around them would be less likely to suffer from erosion and nutrient exhaustion. Except...So I was all ready to get down on that. But Lenzing swears that they use sustainable-growth trees and, moreover, many of their trees are the ones that are cut down to thin out stands (to help the other trees grow) and are not acceptable for most other purposes. They also say that all of the by-products of the process are made useful—the wood sugar is made into sweetener (xylitol, I’m guessing, not the worst of the artificial sweeteners, but not something I’m crazy about). General unhappiness with cutting down trees—my gut reaction—but it is true that some trees need to be cut down for the greater health of the forest. So not quite ready to dismiss Modal.
Then I decided to check out the EU’s Eco-Label so that I could evaluate Lenzing’s pride about earning it for Modal and Tencel. A company’s right to the Eco-Label is determined by an external, and seemingly unbiased, commission. And though it takes a little digging (and reading through some technical specifications) to determine if it’s anything more than an empty show, they do appear to have rigorous environmental standards. I did not read closely enough or do further searches to see if those particular standards are enough (see #1 above), but it is something.
Going back to cotton, the facts I quoted last week about pesticides and water remain. But there is an increasing amount of organic cotton being grown, which takes care of complaints about pesticides and chlorine bleach. It also addresses the problem of cotton’s high water-demand since many of the practices encouraged help decrease the amount of water required by the crop. A number of cotton-based products in the EU have received the Eco-Label, and there’s an organization based in
So in the end, I don’t have a real answer here. I don’t think this is a clear-cut case of “natural” vs. “synthetic” since so much cotton uses a ton of chemicals in its production and Modal has a natural basis and doesn’t appear to use or produce chemicals and other pollutants that get released back into the environment. I will continue to buy Modal, though I’ll be checking labels and trying to avoid the stuff that is made in