When I started to learn how to crochet, my main concern was to choose the materials that I would be comfortable using. I really wanted to make my own home decor products or be able to crochet clothes or toys for my child, but I didn’t want this to be an activity that would negatively impact the environment. I did my research and for now, I ended up using eco-friendly recycled yarns from a local maker that uses old unused fabrics in bad shape to make new fibers.
Eco-friendly yarns are ideally made from organic, natural materials, are renewable and biodegradable. The growing or processing of the materials doesn’t use harmful chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers. The processes don’t pollute water or the environment and don’t harm the health of the workers. The yarns considered ecofriendly are responsible sheep or alpaca wool, Tencel, organic cotton yarn, flex/linen yarn, hemp fiber yarn, soy yarn, or bamboo yarn. The alternative is recycled or upcycled yarns, T-shirt yarn, or even knitting with old plastic bags!
- Eco-friendly dilemma
- What not to use
- GOTS Certification
- Alpaca wool
- Sheep wool
- Upcycled/recycled yarns
- T-shirt yarn
- Tencel / Lyocell
- Linen/flax yarn and Hemp fiber yarns
- Bamboo linen
- Bonus: crochet with plastic bags
- Eco-friendly yarns brands
Being eco-friendly in the globalized world is about choosing the best available option. Sometimes there is no perfect solution. You have to decide between a few options that might still have some negative impact. You have to decide what are you most comfortable with. Maybe the materials and processes are great, but they have to import the product from the other part of the world. Or the final product is biodegradable and produced near you, but there are some harmful processes and chemicals used in the process.
I feel like with fabrics and yarn this is exactly the situation, there is no perfect solution, and you have to choose based on your own criteria. When there is no perfect solution, I personally always lean towards preventing materials from going to landfills.
What not to use
The most common and cheap kind of yarn is the acrylic yarn which is extremely harmful to the environment. It is mass-produced from fossil fuels. Very high amounts of energy are used to extract fossil fuels and its extraction contributes to climate change, land degradation, and water pollution. Moreover, there are also risks of spillages that pollute the earth even more. The main ingredient in acrylic yarns is acrylonitrile which is a potential carcinogen. The acrylic yarn is not biodegradable and releases microplastics into the water supply with each washing.
Other materials to avoid are polyester, nylon, and yarns with synthetic dyes. Instead, for your future projects look into eco-friendly yarns.
A good indicator of whether a natural fibers yarn is eco-friendly is if it has a GOTS certification. GOTS stands for Global Organic Textile Standards and it is the leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers.
To obtain GOTS certification, the products must be produced following strict environmental and social rules. The certification ensures the organic quality of the materials from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labeling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer. (1)
Alpaca wool comes from the fleece of the animal called alpaca. Alpacas are species of camelid, originally from Andes mountain in South America. Alpacas live freely in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Alpaca wool ranks higher than sheep wool on sustainability. The material is renewable, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, water repellent, and it is soft, and not prickly.
The wool requires less processing because alpaca wool does not contain lanolin. Lanolin needs to be taken out, no chemicals are used in the process either.
Alpacas usually live in herds in the wild and the farmers gather them to sheer them and then release them back to the wild.
Some people will still try to find plant-based yarns in order to avoid animal exploitation.
Sheep wool (prefer responsible farming)
Sheep wool is a popular choice, it is an organic substance, therefore it is also renewable and biodegradable. Wool is very durable, so it has a long lifespan which means, the product will be used for a long time. When the products don’t serve anymore, it is very easy to reuse the same wool for another project. It is also possible to recycle the wool by a mechanical process that returns the wool to raw fiber state and then made into yarn again. As wool is an organic material, it does not pollute with microplastics.
You might not want to use wool because you are concerned about the treatment of the sheep when they shear them. Sheering might be cruel and harm the animals. Some farms will also practice mulesing of sheep, which is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin, usually with no pain relief, from around the breech of a sheep to prevent the parasitic infection flystrike (2).
Some big farms will also use pesticides and insecticides to protect the sheep from harmful insects. Moreover, large quantities of sheep will produce a harmful amount of methane, contributing to climate change.
In summary, wool is more eco-friendly than synthetic yarns, but you might not want to use it for animal welfare reasons, or because big animal industries pollute the environment and produce greenhouse gases.
Responsible or recycled wool
If you decide to use sheep wool, look for small, locally-owned farms that practice organic and kind farming to lessen the impact and stick with brands that you trust. Alternatively, use recycled wool or reuse the wool from old garments you no longer use.
Upcycled/recycled yarns are now available on the market. There are companies that collect old garments, in any shape. They convert them back into the raw material, and then they convert the fibers into new yarn.
It may be recycled cotton, cashmere, denim, but they also may contain plastic or synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, and others. By using them we are diverting these materials from going into the landfills and giving these materials a second use.
T-shirt yarn / T-yarn / Jersey yarn
T-shirt yarn is made of used T-shirts. It is mostly made from factory leftover fabrics that are no longer usable for production. As this prevents those textiles to go to landfills, it is a great eco-friendly option. This yarn is used for home decor products like rugs, baskets, bags, etc.
It is also easy to make your own T-yarn at home using old T-shirts that you don’t need or use anymore. You just need good scissors and a bit of time. On the internet you can find easy tutorial on how to make it.
Tencel© / Lyocell
Tencel© (generic name Lyocell) is produced using sustainably grown eucalyptus trees in a closed-loop system. This means, almost all of the solvents and chemicals used in production are recovered, purified, and reused. Eucalyptus trees grow very quickly, without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. The final product is biodegradable.
Cotton (use only organic or recycle cotton)
Eco-friendly disadvantages of commercial cotton
Another very common yarn is cotton. Cotton is strong, durable, and has excellent water absorption properties with short drying times. But as I write in my article about eco-friendly fabrics, commercially produced cotton is also quite harmful to the environment. It uses enormous amounts of water to produce, uses pesticides and toxins that affect the soil and health of the workers.
Eco-friendly advantages of organic cotton
The organic cotton yarn is a better option, as organic cotton farming has much less impact on the environment as it addresses almost all the environmental challenges commercial cotton has. It uses much less water. It does not use pesticides, insecticides, or fertilizers, so the farmers’ health conditions are much improved. They also use non-GMO seeds and techniques that do not harm the soil. To be sure the cotton you are purchasing is organic, look for GOTS certification.
Recycled cotton is a better option compared to new cotton because it prevents textile waste and it requires far fewer resources than conventional or even organic cotton. Unfortunately, most of the cotton is not recycled today.
Less common options
Scarcer options are flex/linen yarn, hemp fiber yarn, soy yarn, or bamboo yarn (only if not processed chemically). You might have trouble finding these, but they are a great option if you have a source.
Linen/flax yarn and hemp fiber yarns
Both linen/flax yarns and hemp fiber yarns are a great eco-friendly option. These plants have been used for fibers and textiles for centuries. Both plants grow easily even in poor soils, they don’t usually need additional watering. They do not need pesticides or fertilizers to grow, and they even improve the quality of the soil. The hemp plant is one of the fastest-growing crops. The finished product is renewable, biodegradable and it is strong and durable as well.
Unfortunately, hemp belongs to the same family as the cannabis plant. Despite not having the same effects, in some countries, they heavily regulate the plantation or even prohibit to grow it. On the other hand in other countries, it is one of the most traditional crops to make textiles from.
Bamboo as a plant is probably the most eco-friendly and sustainable material. It grows really fast, with no need for watering, or fertilizers, and pesticides. When harvested, they cut it and the plant regrows from the root and gets even stronger. It improves the quality of the soil.
However, the process of textile fiber production may contain harmful chemicals. But there are mechanical processes that are more labor-intensive that can produce bamboo textiles without the use of the chemicals. The resulting textile is called bamboo linen. If you can find it, make sure that it really is produced in a mechanical way.
Bonus: crochet with plastic bags
I have also seen many home decor or other useful projects made from plastic bags. You need to cut the plastic bags into stripes and then you can make baskets, coasters, small coin purses, or even jewelry.
Eco-friendly yarn brands
Wool and the Gang: They source sustainable and recycled yarns from around the world with respect to the planet earth. They offer wool, alpaca, hemp, cotton, T-yarn or jersey yarn, Tencel, and others.
We are knitters: They also source only environmentally friendly yarns, and they also contribute to local communities, and even source accessories made from sustainable materials. They offer bamboo, wool, alpaca, recycled yarns, and others.
Darn good yarn: They have a strong focus on social impact in underserved communities, supporting artisans and also focus on sourcing materials that have a reclaimed or recycled element. They offer banana, cotton, linen, hemp, wool, and other yarns.
Lana Knits is a Canadian company that focuses on hemp yarns. Canada is one of the countries where it is legal to grow hemp. They offer 100% hemp yarns and as well as hemp/cotton, hemp/wool, and even hemp/cashmere mixes.
Recycled Yarn: This is an Etsy store that offers natural knitting and weaving yarns made from discarded sweaters. Focusing on sustainable reuse of unused fashion items.
I hope this article helped you to choose the yarns you feel comfortable with and maybe you got inspired to try some new options.
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