How does Linen fair environmentally and socially as a material?

  • The production of flax (or linen) is often carried out with the use of agricultural chemicals and in particular fertilisers and herbicides to control weeds. 
  • The flax is often grown in cooler climates than other natural fibres like cotton and extensive irrigation is not required, so avoiding environmental impacts associated with water consumption, pollution and soil salinisation. 
  • It is also suggested that fibres like flax and also hemp, jute and kenaf grow well on land unsuitable for food production and may help re-cultivate soils polluted with contaminants such as heavy metals. (Source: Kate Fletcher, 1999

Processing linen

The traditional process of degumming flax fibres from the stalk (retting) involves placing small bundles of stalks in water tanks, open retting ponds or running river water while the stalk rots and the fibres are separated from the woody core. Water retting is linked to water pollution as nutrients from the decaying stalks promote high levels of BOD and COD. Alternatives to water retting exist and include among others: dew retting, where plants are left to decompose on the ground with the right conditions of heat and moisture; and enzyme retting, in which enzymes are applied to the flax either in the field or in tanks and which avoid pollution problems associated with the traditional method. (Source: Kate Fletcher, 1999