March 15, 2018
Faux Fur Raw Materials
Faux fur is thought of as a friendly alternative to real furs. It is thought of as friendly alternative because faux fur does not require the killing of animals. The prices of faux fur are also much lower than those of natural furs. Faux fur was introduced in the fashion industry in 1929. During this time faux furs were made of alpaca hair that attempted to imitate other animal furs. This proved to be problematic because they were low quality and had very dull colors (1). However, technical advances in the textile industry led to the creation of synthetic fibers that allowed faux furs to be much lighter and more accurately imitate real furs. Analysis of the faux fur life cycle has shown that even though it is thought to be a friendly alternative to real furs, the raw materials used in the life cycle of faux fur, like synthetic fibers and synthetic dyes are extremely damaging to humans and the environment.
Faux fur is primarily made of petroleum based fibers that can have negative effects on people and the environment. Acrylic and modacrylic fibers are secondary raw materials. The primary raw materials in acrylic fibers are fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas, and coal (2). Crude petroleum is processed to make these chemicals by being heated and turned into a gas. The gas is then cooled and it becomes a liquid. Once it is a liquid, the raw fractions are extracted from the liquid and processed so that it can be used to make several finished products (3). Fossil fuels like crude petroleum are damaging to the environment because they insulate the planet and this can lead to catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate. The primary raw materials in modacrylic fibers are copolymers that include acrylonitrile, vinyl chloride, and vinylidene chloride. Acrylonitrile is made of a carbon dioxide bond and nitrile with a carbon-nitrogen triple bond. Acrylonitrile is very common in plastics. Vinyl chloride is made of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. Vinylidene chloride is produced through a reaction of 1, 1, 2 trichloroethane with lime and caustic soda. Vinyl chloride has been proven to be a carcinogen, and acrylonitrile and vinylidene chloride are suspected to be carcinogens. These copolymers also have short term effects on the central nervous system, they can cause nausea and have long term effects that lead to liver damage. A study on the life cycle assessment of faux fur versus natural furs shows that faux furs have a greater risk of impact from carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic emissions (4).
A variety of fabrics, like cotton can be used for the backing of faux fur, while rayon, silicone and resins serve as supplements to acrylic and modacrylic fibers. Cotton fabric is a primary raw material and it used as the backing of faux fur. Cotton comes from cotton seeds used for planting. Pesticides like insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides are used in the growing of cotton (7). Pesticides can threaten many organisms like birds and fishes, contaminate the air, and have negative health effects on humans (5). Rayon is a semisynthetic fiber that is commonly used to supplement acrylic and modacrylic fibers. Rayon is a secondary raw material in faux fur and it’s primary raw materials are cellulose and cotton linters. Cellulose is made from wood pulp from pine, spruce or hemlock trees and cotton linters are residue fibers that cling to cotton seeds after the ginning process (6). Silicone is yet another secondary raw material and is also a synthetic polymer. Silicone is made of oxygen and other elements, the other elements are usually carbon and hydrogen Resins are links of monomers derived from natural gas and oil, polymers like acrylics and modacrylics are made of many monomers (9). Resins are the end product of the process used to produce resins and since they go through the same process, resins are equally as damaging to the environment as acrylic and modacrylic fibers.
Bright colors are a common characteristic in faux fur, the use of synthetic dyes is essential to achieving these bright colors. However, the use of synthetic dyes is also responsible for much of the waste created by the textile industries. Synthetic dyes are a secondary raw material and in Des 40A it was taught that the primary raw materials in synthetic dyes are coal tar (benzene) and nitric acid. The combination of coal tar and nitric acid leads to the creation of nitrobenzene that can be cooked to create a variety of colors. Synthetic dyes are made with coal tar which is a by product of fossil fuels, as discussed previously fossil fuels have many negative effects on the planet and its climate. Materials used in the dyeing process include fiber, water, yarn, and chemicals that may includes bleaches and auxiliary finishes like fire retardant and softeners. The textile dyeing process uses 5.8 trillion litres of water the equivalent of 3.7 billion olympic sized swimming pools (10). The dyeing process also leaves 10-20% of dyes and other chemicals used in the water, and that leads to waste water pollution. The textile industry is responsible for one-fifth of the world’s industrial water pollution (10). As discussed by Professor Cogdell, wastewater can affect the environment by giving the water a bad look, foul smell, and more importantly it can block sunlight, this kills marine life (Lecture 2/13/2018). The waste water is not cleaned by textile industries and it is dumped in rivers, eventually these rivers become uninhabitable for marine life. If the fluid from the waters builds up it can also lead to stopping soil productivity, this fluid can also drain into rivers and affect the quality of drinking water.
The manufacturing process begins with the production of acrylic and modacrylic fibers. In this production chemicals are added that are harmful to humans. The production of acrylic fibers begins when heat and energy are applied to fossil fuels and polymerization begins. The solution that results from polymerization is blended with solvents. The solution then becomes viscous (neither solid, nor liquid). There are many different solvents used in dry spinning and one of the most common solvents used in textiles is dimethylformamide, it is made through a reaction of carbon monoxide and ammonia. Dimethylformamide has been proven to be damaging to the liver, kidneys and lungs in animals and humans; it has also been proven to have negative reproductive/developmental effects and increase cancer risks (11). Once the solution and solvents have combined to form a viscous solution, they are dry spun and extruded through spinnerets into a zone of heated gas or vapor. The solvent evaporates and leaves behind solidified filaments, these are similar to threads or fibers. Wet spinning can also be used to make acrylic and modacrylic fibers, but dry spinning was chosen because it emits the largest amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds. VOC’s have been proven to cause damage to the organs and increase cancer risks (8). The dry spinning method can be used for both acrylic and modacrylic fibers. The process of creating modacrylic fibers is very similar to the creation of acrylic fibers, but they differ in the first steps because they have different primary raw materials. Modacrylic polymerization occurs when acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride monomers are mixed together in a large stainless steel container (1). A white powdery resin is produced and acetone is added, in order to turn the powder into a liquid. The liquid is then dry spun, a method that was chosen for both acrylic and modacrylic fibers. Dry spinning results in fibers that are stretched, washed and dried. The polymers are then soaked in dye solutions and colored, the fibres may be dyed again in another stage.
The backing which in this case was chosen to be cotton fabric, is what modacrylic and acrylic fibers will be attached to. The fibers can be attached through techniques like weaving or knitting, weaving was chosen because it is the most energy intensive (12). The acrylic fibers are attached to the cotton by creating loops of fibres through the backing. It then undergoes finishing processes like shearing that gives the fibres a uniform length, it is heated because this pre shrinks the fabrics and improves the stability of the fabric. The fabric undergoes a process known as tigering. Tigering requires the use of a wire comb to remove any loose fibers. The fabric is also electrified, this is a polishing technique that improves the luster of faux fur fabrics (1). Silicones and resins are added to improve the look of fibres and the dyeing process can also be done again, if the producers want the fur to imitate a real animal or to be brightly colored, the way most faux fur fabrics are. The last step in the production of faux fur is the addition of a label, this is because the government requires faux fur fabrics to have a label stating they are imitation furs (1).
The transportation of faux fur requires the use of jet and bunker fuels, these fuels have been proven to have many negative effects on marine and human life. The largest producer of faux fur is China; faux fur is transported from China to its destination through either freight ships or airplanes (12). Freight ships require bunker fuel in order to reach their desired destinations. Bunker fuel is a secondary raw material in the transportation of faux fur. There are two basic types of marine fuels distillate and residual, distillate was chosen as the fuel type. Distillate fuel is made of petroleum fractions of crude oil that are extracted in the refining process by distillation or boiling (13). Bunker fuel has been proven to be toxic to marine life and can have negative effects on the reproductive system and health in humans (14). Jet fuel is a secondary raw material in the transportation of faux fur. The primary raw material in jet fuel is crude oil. The process of extracting and refining crude oil produces a lot of waste water, CO2, and other toxic wastes that are harmful to the environment. (3).
The maintenance of faux fur is optional, but it is recommended in order to extend the life cycle of faux fur. Maintenance can include washing the faux fur in a washing machine or dry cleaning. The secondary raw materials would be electricity, water, and detergents. The cheapest primary raw material to produce electricity is coal. The primary raw materials found in detergents include hydrocarbons and chemicals that are derived from crude oil (15). The secondary raw materials found in dry cleaning are many, so only one was chosen. One of the secondary raw materials in dry cleaning are petroleum-based solvents. The primary raw materials in petroleum-based solvents are petroleum, hydrocarbons, alkanes, and cycloalkanes. Faux fur can be reused, by re-melting or re-dissolving acrylic fibers in order to create new acrylic fibers. This process is called mechanical recycling. The fibers can also undergo chemical recycling, during this process the polymer is broken down to its molecular parts in order to create a new yarn (20).
Currently, there are no effective ways of recycling faux fur. When faux fur is unappealing to the consumer either because it is either worn out or out of style, the faux fur will go to the landfill. No new raw materials added in recycling. No new raw materials are added in the waste management of faux fur either.
People will often judge someone who wears natural fur and applaud those who choose to wear faux fur because it is cruelty free. Faux fur is technically cruelty free because it does not require animals to be killed in its production. The analysis of the faux fur life cycle has shown that even though it is thought to be a friendly alternative, the raw materials used in the life cycle of faux fur, like synthetic fibers and synthetic dyes are extremely damaging to humans and the environment. Even though faux fur does not use the real fur of animals in its production, it does use materials that damage the environment and that costs animal lives, while also harming human health. People wearing faux fur should not be applauded and instead more people should look into the way faux fur is produced, so that an actual friendly and sustainable alternative to natural and faux furs can be found.
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“What Is Acrylic Fabric?” Natural Clothing, 8 Jan. 2018, www.naturalclothing.com/what-is-acrylic-fabric/
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Muthu, Subramanian Senthilkannan. Textiles and Clothing Sustainability Sustainable Fashion and Consumption = Sustainable Fashion and Consumption. Springer, 2017.
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Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Rayon.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Apr. 2016, www.britannica.com/technology/rayon-textile-fibre.
“Cotton.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-6/Cotton.html.
“Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 6 Nov. 2017, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality.
Warren, Chris. “Industrial Resins and the Environment.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/industrial-resins1.htm.
Blackburn , Dr. Richard. Sustainability Challenges of the Textiles, Dyeing and Finishing Industries: Opportunities for Innovation. www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/events/popular-chemsitry/Slides/2017-03-30-textile-chem-slides.pdf+.
“N,N-Dimethylformamide.” Epa.gov, www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/n-n-dimethylformamide.pdf.
Bijleveld, Marijn. “Natural Mink and Faux Fur Products, an Environmental Comparison .” www.furfreealliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/CE_Delft_22203_Natural_mink_fur_and_faux_fur_products_DEF-1.pdf.
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Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Vinylidene Chloride.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Oct. 2014, www.britannica.com/science/vinylidene-chloride.
Ramchandani, Mukta, and Ivan Coste-Maniere. “To Fur or Not to Fur: Sustainable Production and Consumption Within Animal-Based Luxury and Fashion Products.” Textile Science and Clothing Technology Textiles and Clothing Sustainability, Nov. 2016, pp. 41–60., doi:10.1007/978-981-10-2131-2_2.
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Professor Cogdell, Rise of Chemical Industries Lecture 2/13/2018
DES40A, Winter 2018
7 March 2017
Embodied Energy of Faux Fur Life Cycle
For thousands of years people have made clothing out of animal fur for warmth and or fashion, but as time went on and views have changed, the act of using animal fur was deemed unethical and cruel. Because of this, companies and manufacturers turned to synthetic fabric to make faux fur, assuming it would be more environmentally friendly and sustainable. The life cycle of faux fur involves the raw materials, production of synthetic fur, transportation and distribution of the final product, and recycling of the fabric. The embodied energy produced and used throughout its life cycle is unsustainable, which contributes to the detrimental effects faux fur has on the environment.
Since acrylic fiber is synthetic, fossil fuels and chemicals are used to create it, and thus a great amount of energy was used to acquire these materials. The fossil fuels used to create the plastic solution called polyacrylonitrile that will eventually become acrylic fabric include petroleum, natural gas, coal, and limestone. These raw materials are put under heat and pressure, a process called polymerization, which uses thermal energy driven by electric power in the factories (Camille). In conjunction with the applied heat and pressure, the materials were also combined in chemical reactions to help make acrylonitrile monomers using chemical energy, and are then put into a volatile solvent to dissolve in. This becomes a thick viscous substance. Synthetic dyes used to dye acrylic fabric are also made from petroleum, so it uses chemical energy as well. Acquiring fossil fuels is very energy intensive itself and even more energy will be required to create the actual fiber.
The process of manufacturing acrylic fiber requires a tremendous amount of energy compared to natural fiber and even some synthetic fiber, such as polyester. Acrylonitrile goes through a dry-spinning process to form acrylic fiber with the “solvents being removed from the polymer [acrylonitrile] by an evaporation process using hot, inert gases” (McIntyre 192). This requires thermal energy to evaporate the volatile solvent and to form the fibers. Part of the dry-spinning process includes pumping acrylonitrile through a spinneret, a shower head-like machine with hundreds of holes for the polymer to pass through. Acrylonitrile is filtered through a spinneret using electricity, and as it goes through the spinneret it passes through warm air requiring more thermal energy (“Fiber Manufacturing”). It cools to a rubbery state and then becomes thin solidified filaments. These fibers are heated and stretched to “impart additional molecular orientation” and are washed in a cold water bath to “lock the orientation in by the rapid cooling action” (Weinberger). These steps are significant because it gives the fibers high-strength properties. It is evident that thermal energy and electricity are important and depended on for a majority of the dry-spinning process. This trend in energy use is further applied to the final step in dry spinning by drying the fiber at around 120 to 170 degrees Celsius with throughput, speed of 100 to 150 meters per minute (McIntyre 196). The total amount of energy used to produce and manufacture acrylic fiber is 175 megajoules per kilogram of acrylic fiber (“Why Do We”). Producing acrylic fiber is about three times more energy intensive than cotton and one and a half times more than polyester, thus it is unsustainable and energy inefficient.
Once the fiber production process is finished, the fibers are weaved to become yarn. Throughout the weaving process, “thermal energy required per meter of cloth is 4,500-5,500 Kcal [kilocalorie] and electrical energy required per meter of cloth is 0.45-0.55 kwh [kilowatts]” (“What is the Energy”). The total electricity input throughout the manufacturing process is 1.32 kwh (Yacout, El-Kawi, and Hassouna). This is equivalent to about 4.752 megajoules which may not seem like a lot; however, when the other types of energy used throughout the process are included, it adds up to a significant amount.
Another component of faux fur is cotton utilized as the back lining of the acrylic fibers to provide structural support and to act as a medium for the attachment of the fibers. Human labor and machines used to plant and harvest cotton uses mechanical energy. Additionally, the machines used in the cotton fields and factories also require diesel and electrical power. Mechanical and chemical energies were used to protect the cotton plants against insects and weeds by spraying pesticides on the plants (Costello, Thomas, et al.). The pesticides were most likely sprayed via a vehicle or machine. The embodied energy used for the production of cotton fiber is 55 MJ per KG of cotton fiber (“What is the Energy”). This energy includes fiber preparation and yarn spinning of the cotton fabric, which is significantly lower than the energy required for acrylic fiber; it is approximately 3 times lower as stated earlier. The amount of energy consumed during the weaving process of cotton fiber is the same as acrylic fiber: 4,500-5,500 Kcal in thermal energy and 0.45-0.55 kwh in electrical energy (“What is the Energy”). Although cotton fiber does not require as much energy as acrylic fiber, the total energy for the production of faux fur is very high as it includes two different types of fabric.
The United States and many other countries import faux fur from other countries such as Europe, Asia, and Africa through ships and possibly planes, which use energy to power the transportation systems. China is a huge faux fur exporter, so they use freight ships and planes depending on the destination of the consumers. According to Marijn Bijleveld in “Natural Mink Fur and Faux Fur Products, an Environmental Comparison,” faux fur exported from Shanghai to Rotterdam travels approximately 9,000 kilometers by freight ship. Freight ships and planes use petroleum, which is powered by chemical energy. Transporting faux fur to many different countries require an enormous amount of petroleum and energy, thus hurting the environment.
To decrease the energy use, faux fur is often reused to prolong the life of the fabric as long as possible and to avoid any additional energy input. Materials throughout its life cycle are also reused, such as the solvent used to dissolve the acrylonitrile polymers in which the “hot gas laden with solvent is then recycled and the solvent is recovered continuously as part of the recycling operation” (McIntyre 194). It is assumed that the solvent is filtered for repeated use which uses electricity. A majority of the time acrylic fiber is mechanically recycled and one way to do so is to re-melt or re-dissolve the fiber to make it into molding materials or new acrylic fiber using the same solvent (Sengupta). Again, chemical energy is being used to renew the acrylic fiber; however, not as much energy is consumed as it would for virgin acrylic fiber. Reusing the fibers of faux fur saves a lot of energy and temporarily halts the creation of waste for a duration of time.
When reusing faux fur fabric is no longer an option, many will recycle the fabric and turn it into another product, thus requiring an extra input of energy. In India, acrylic fiber is converted into regenerated fiber or rags and are often donated to charities (Sengupta). They try to reuse it for different purposes so that it does not go to waste or create even more waste. The very last alternative is to incinerate the fabric when it is sent to the landfill. This only happens when there is no other option and the fabric is no longer stable enough to be used for any product (“Why is Recycled”). This is sometimes done to recapture some of the energy put into the early stage of its life cycle. However, the fabric is not always incinerated when it is sent to the landfill. Often times it occupies space in the landfill and will slowly break down, but it will take an extremely long time.
Throughout the life cycle of faux fur, hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are released; therefore, energy is required to remove or lessen the damage the wastes cause to the environment. In the beginning of the material preparation process, chemical vapors are absorbed and recycled back to the process while effluents, liquid waste sent out to a river or sea, are sent to effluent treatment plants where it is treated before being finally disposed (Yacout, El-Kawi, and Hassouna). Electricity is consumed to recycle the chemical vapors through the factory and to power the effluent treatment plants. It is assumed that effluents are transported by car, so it converts chemical energy in gasoline into mechanical energy. Solid waste fibers are dissolved and reused in the process, and chemicals are collected and disposed of into a landfill for hazardous waste (Yacout, El-Kawi, and Hassouna). The solid waste fibers are most likely dissolved using chemicals, and thus utilize chemical energy. Additionally, the chemicals collected are transported to a hazardous waste site, assuming by a vehicle, so it requires gasoline which converts chemical energy into mechanical energy.
Although faux fur is a better alternative to animal fur, it damages the environment, and the energy put into its life cycle does not outweigh the benefits of using faux fur. A huge abundance of energy, materials, and chemicals are used to make faux fur but it also releases an abominable amount of waste to the environment. Manufacturers and consumers should rethink the idea of using synthetic fur as it does more harm than good for the environment. Immediate actions should be taken to address the amount of energy it requires to make a relatively small amount of fabric that will be tossed away in a person’s lifetime. Alternatives to synthetic fiber should be further planned and executed in which different raw materials are used instead of fossil fuels as this will change the amount of energy needed to process the materials.
“Camille.” Natural Clothing, Natural Clothing, 8 Jan. 2018, www.naturalclothing.com/what-is-acrylic-fabric/.
Costello, Thomas, et al. “Energy Use Life Cycle Assessment for Global Cotton Production Practices.” Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, 15 Mar. 2008.
Bijleveld, Marijn. “Natural Mink Fur and Faux Fur Products, an Environmental Comparison.” CE Delft, June 2013.
“Fiber Manufacturing.” American Fiber Manufacturers Association, American Fiber Manufacturers Association, 2017, www.fibersource.com/fiber-world-classroom/manufacturing/.
McIntyre, J. E. Synthetic Fibres: Nylon, Polyester, Acrylic, Polyolefin. Woodhead, 2005. Print.
Sengupta, Amit. “Environmental Safety through Recycling of Textiles.”Chemarc.com, Wool Research Association, 7 Sept. 2017, www.chemarc.com/content/environmental-safety-through-recycling-of-textiles--an-outlook-an-outlook/59019b5f84583c4676851d44.
Weinberger, Charles B. “Instructional Module on Synthetic Fiber Manufacturing.” Gateway Coalition, 30 Aug. 1996.
“What is the Energy Profile of the Textile Industry?” O Ecotextiles, O Ecotextiles, 31 Oct. 2011, www.oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/what-is-the-energy-profile-of-the-textile-industry/.
“Why Do We Offer Safe Fabrics?” O Ecotextiles, O Ecotextiles, 3 Mar. 2016, www.oecotextiles.wordpress.com/category/embodied-energy-in-textiles/.
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Yacout, Dalia, Abd El-Kawi, and Salah Hassouna. (2016). Cradle to Gate Environmental Impact Assessment of Acrylic Fiber Manufacturing. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. 21. 326-336. 10.1007/s11367-015-1023-3.
March 15, 2018
Faux Fur: Waste and Emissions
Faux fur is a fashionable trend that can be found as coats, vests, jacket linings, blankets and a wide variety of other consumer products. It is often seen in such a positive light in comparison to real fur. Although this is true in regard to animal rights and welfare, it is not quite the same story in regard to the environment and our planet. The amount and types of materials put into the textile are actually very harmful and contributes to an unsustainable future of Earth. A lifecycle analysis follows a product from its birth to end of life to understand specifically the waste and emissions produced at each stage of life. Analyzing the various stages of the lifecycle of faux fur, we can see that there are a variety of wastes and emissions that are a result of a variety of synthetic materials used in the process of production. Even though faux fur is a popular garment substitute for animal lovers and fashionistas alike, it is not as eco-friendly as it seems.
The main raw material that makes up faux fur is acrylic fibers; gathering the fiber produces a variety of volatile organic compounds and wastewater. Acrylic is a manmade fiber, and is described as plastic that is widely used in the textile industry. Polyacrylonitrile is the main component in acrylic, and creating it involves energy and fossil fuels like natural gas and petroleum (“What Is Acrylic Fiber”). However, this process creates byproducts such as acetaldehyde, vinyl acetylene and vinyl chloride from heating which are unhelpful waste emissions (Capone). Acetaldehyde occurs in plant products in nature including ripe fruit, but is actually classified as a Type I carcinogen found in air toxins, which is released through the Sohio polyacrylonitrile process (IARC Monographs). Both vinyl acetylene and vinyl chloride are also released through the process into the air (EPA). They are not inherently toxic, but are highly flammable, which means it’s potentially explosive and dangerous to humans’ lives. The current disposal of the byproduct includes wet air oxidation and incineration because it is cost effective, but this does release the chemicals into the air.
In terms of manufacturing, processing and formulation, acrylic consists mostly of a monomer called polyacrylonitrile. In order to obtain this monomer however, there is a process called dry spinning that uses a lot of energy (ACS). Dry spinning as a process can be divided into pre-spinning, spinning and post-spinning. The pre-spinning process involves taking the polyacrylonitrile and dissolving it into an organic solvent along with other additives. This new solution becomes tacky and is called the “dope” preparation, which is necessary to begin the process of spinning (Anchuang). This dope preparation process produces a large amount of volatile organic compounds that are released into the atmosphere, from the additives and organic solvent. Air pollution emissions also come from residual volatilized residual monomer from the spinning process. Then, a zone of heated gas is waiting where the spinnerette pushes out the solution to evaporate, leaving only the solidified filament. The solution evaporating contributes to the VOCs emitted from this process, which could be classified as post-spinning. Once the fibers have gone through this procedure, they are ready to be processed (EPA). Processing at the post-spinning stage involves drawing, washing and crimping the polymer fiber, which releases a lot of VOCs as well. The most VOCs are emitted during the pre and post-spinning stages, but reuse systems are only in place for the actual dry-spinning process itself. They are captured to protect the health of workers, but typically the amount of solvent that can be gained is less than what can be gained from the spinning process. VOC reuse is only focused on for the spinning process because even the operation themselves releases too small of an amount to be deemed significant to reuse (EPA).
Cotton is the next main ingredient involved in faux fur as a textile. It is often a lining to the garment or the base of the fibers. The acquisition of cotton involves predominantly growing cotton seeds in large quantities. Emissions from this process comes from the planting and harvesting process of cotton as a crop. Fertilizer is a large contributor to greenhouse gas, namely nitrous oxide in particular (Jie Wu). In addition, carbon dioxide is emitted through tractors’ use of biodiesel fuel in tending to the crops on a large scale, which is necessary for the cotton to be healthy.
Similar to acrylic fibers, cotton fibers need to undergo chemical processing before being able to be used as a textile, which comes with its own emissions. Through the process, slashing, resizing and scouring release the most VOCs airborne into the atmosphere (Cotton INC). Through sizing, which is strengthening the yarns so that they will not break during weaving, VOCs are emitted into the air, and wastewater is produced from the metals used. In desizing, which is cleaning the size from the yarn once the fabric has been woven, glycol ethers is produced as a VOC, and wastewater from the water soluble sizes, anti-static compounds as well as others are produced. (Ramesh Babu). Lastly, scouring is the process of removing any lasting impurities from the textile. This process also releases glycol ethers and solvents as VOCs into the air. Scouring also produces wastewater from various detergents, waxes, finishes and other solvents used through the process.
Rayon is mostly made of cellulose, which is a plant based organic polymer. In it of itself, cellulose can just be taken from plants, but the type used in textiles and fabrics like rayon is specifically regenerated cellulose. This process involves raw materials such as wood chip and a variety of chemicals to digest it. The type of wood chip used is often spruce, pine and hemlock (AFMA). Since it can be made from a variety of woods, or even cotton, rayon is often a popular choice because of the economical and diversity. However, to turn the cellulose into cellulose pulp that can be used to make fabric, chemicals like sodium hydroxide which is caustic soda, and liquid carbon disulfide is necessary (Allen). Because of this, it is not very environmentally friendly as a fabric.
Synthetic dyes are necessary to the production of faux fur to make it look fashionable and similar to real fur. Bleaching agents, detergents and chemicals like chromophore and autochrome are some of the major raw materials necessary to create the synthetic dye. At almost every stage of the dying process, effluent is produced as wastewater from the excess chemicals used in each step (Robinson). For example, bleaching is a step that is necessary to decolorize the garment in order to make a base for the dyes. The bleaching process produces wastewater including chemicals like hydrogen peroxide and sodium silicate. Through the dying process, color arises from the chromophore and autochrome in groups in dyes, and water is used to transfer dyes and heat treatment baths in the form of steam. According to the National Cotton Council of America, more than eighty thousand metric tons of reactive dyes are produced and consumed per year, which means that is also a lot of wastewater. Drainage is wastewater plus the treatment containing hydrolyzed reactive dyes and is necessary in order for the wastewater to be reused. From the textile fabric printing process, hydrocarbon effluent is released. In India alone, one hundred and twenty two million liters of kerosene is released into the atmosphere from printing, drying and curing textiles (Synthetic Textile Dyes). The finishing process of synthetic dying is formaldehyde based, which is potentially harmful to the environment and humans. It is a known carcinogen, and is easily absorbed through the skin. This is concerning because not only is it released through production, but faux fur is often worn as a coat or article of clothing atop the skin, which puts the consumer also at risk (EPA). The whole synthetic dying process produces a large amount of effluent.
Most of the manufacturing of the various fibers occurs across the world. Acrylic fiber occurs in China, but the world’s biggest producer is called ASKA, located in Turkey. The United States stopped producing acrylic fiber in 2006 completely, so there is full dependence on importing for faux fur as well as a variety of other acrylic products (IHS Markit). Waste and emissions from this would come largely from air travel and boat travel. Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are emitted from airplane travel, which are greenhouse gases toxic to the environment. By boat, there are still greenhouse gas emissions, plus there is also potential oil pollution as a negative environmental impact factor to take into account. For cotton, the production mostly occurs in China and India. India is also home to the largest rayon producer in the world, Grasim. Grasim has plants all over India as well as others in China, Canada and Laos. The actual production of faux fur products also takes place mostly in China, which means that all of the components need to get there. The transportation alone emits a large amount of greenhouse gases just to gather all the materials in one place. Then, distribution only adds to the amount of toxic emissions.
The lifespan of a faux fur product obviously varies widely, but it is not as long as a real fur garment. Overall, the life span is shorter because the material does not hold up as well and shows signs of wear easily. It has the potential of being repurposed through being handed down or resold at a thrift store, but at the end of the day, it will end up in a landfill somewhere. This is a major issue because the acrylic fibers can last up to two hundred years before finally decomposing, all the while leeching toxic chemicals and toxins into the ground and air (“What Is Acrylic Fiber”). When the acrylic fiber thermally decomposes at four hundred to eight hundred degrees, hydrogen cyanide is the predominant airborne toxic product (Brazdil). Hydrogen cyanide is a flammable and poisonous chemical that is toxic to humans and poses a danger to aquatic systems (Cyanide Code). When it is thermally decomposed at a smaller temperature, ammonia is airborne, which is classified as a toxic substance with adverse human health effects. (Toxic Substances Portal). Cotton in theory should be the easiest to decompose quickly without any major byproducts, but only if it is one hundred percent pure cotton, which is rare in most garments. Plus, cotton only makes up a very small portion of faux fur. Rayon is one of the more biodegradable materials, but like cotton is not a major part of the textile, so does not have a large impact on faux fur as a whole. Synthetic dye makes water less light permeable, which can cause problems in aquatic systems.
Overall, there is a wide variety of waste and emissions that are created through the production of synthetic materials that make up faux fur. Even though there is some effort to recapture or reuse airborne waste, a majority of it is still released into the atmosphere. Treatments for wastewater exists as well, but takes extra energy and still runs the risk of spills or airborne emissions. Although faux fur is a more ethical option, there are many issues concerning waste and emissions to consider.
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