It gives a really good breakdown of the pros and cons of different types of eco-freindly fabrics. Some I was already aware of, like bamboo, organic cotton, organic wool and hemp. Some others I didn't know about, here are a few of the interesting ones (I edited these a bit, click the link for full description):
PLA Polylactic acid, is a biodegradable and recyclable polymer derived from 100 percent renewable resources that are starch-rich, such as corn.
- Pros: Starch-rich products are renewable resources. PLA is recyclable and will biodegrade down to carbon dioxide and water in commercial composting systems.
- Cons: Because of the relatively small manufacturing volume, PLA is still expensive to produce and is impacted by fuel and corn commodity prices. The U.S. commercial corn market has a significant percentage of grain that comes from genetically modified corn. As a result, PLA production currently supports the market for genetically modified crops.
- Pros: The use of recycled PET reduces landfill waste, the use of raw materials such as petroleum and the use of energy in the manufacturing process. Finding a recycling solution for "Disposable" PET bottles would be a big environmental win.
- Cons: Contamination through manufacturing or consumer use makes post- consumer recycled PET very difficult to use as new fibers and fabrics because it is not as high a quality and has different properties-a less soft feel, for example. While better than the landfill, this "down cycling" approach has limited markets.
- Pros: The reuse of manufacturing scraps reduces waste and the amount of virgin petroleum products needed. It also reduces the energy used in processing. The development of manufacturing capabilities to reprocess the material into high quality fiber and fabric is intended to be a first step in using increased post consumer waste.
- Cons: Generally, recycling industrial waste is viewed as a process improvement rather than a major environmental win. Achieving a process that utilizes a high percentage of post consumer waste will be the ultimate goal.
My understanding has been that these types of recycled fabrics (especially recycled PET from plastic bottles) can't compare comfort-wise to cotton and other fabrics typically used for clothing. I thought they were too rough, and that's why they are often used by active-wear companies like REI for things like fleeces and raincoats. I'm going to keep an eye out and see if I find any of the three types of fabrics mentioned above in fashion clothing (like shirts and dresses). It would be interesting to see if they can really compete with cotton, wool and polyester.
Looks like REI has an "ecoSensitive label" where they use some of these materials, so I can add it to the list of places I can shop. (However, I don't usually need a whole lot of outdoor apparel!)