Is silk bad for the environment

Is silk good for the environment or bad, or is it just me

Along side my love for silk and exploration into natural fabrics, I am also trying to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I have always thought silk to be very environmentally friendly, although not silkworm friendly. To be sure, I did a deep delve online to determine if silk is indeed environmentally friendly or not.

Spoiler alert, it can be environmentally unfriendly yet friendly too. Confused? Well, it depends on the company manufacturing it and our shopping habits. Let me share simply what I’ve discovered.

Does silk production harm the environment?

The production of any fabric is generally harmful to the environment, unless you are weaving your clothes from dried straw. Since we are not, this [Link] is how silk is made. It certainly does not benefit the environment, or the silkworms.

The question is, when compared to the production process of other fabrics, does it do more or less environmental harm. I would love to give you some direct answers, but there are simply too many variables. Let us take the production of cotton and silk for a comparison.

Is silk or cotton production more harmful to the environment

We can agree that neither silk nor cotton production is good for the environment, but which is worse? This really depends on the practices of the silk or cotton producing farm.

Ways silk production harm the enviroment

Usage of chemicals in the farming process

Some silk farms use chemical disinfectants like formaldehyde or chlorine to reduce the chances of diseases in silkworms. There are also other silk farms that uses chemical free methods such as sun drying or steaming, which does not release toxic waste into the environment. Farms may give hormones to quicken the silkworm’s growth and increase silk production.

What is silk and where does it come from
The waste water produced by dyeing silk is not environmentally friendly as well

Weighted silk

After silk is obtained from the silkworms, it may be ‘weighted’. This is done by adding metallic salts such as iron, lead and tin, to increasing the weight of the raw silk. Besides improving profits, weighted silk fabric has improved drapeability and looks more lustrous.

However, the by-product of making silk ‘weighted’ is toxic waste water. Not to mention, the ‘weighting’ process is highly damaging to silk fibre. This results in less durable silk, destined for the landfill sooner, which is not friendly to the environment at all.

Ways cotton production harm the enviroment

Similarly for cotton, there is the common practice of using genetically modified (GMO) cotton seeds, pesticides and other harmful chemicals in the farming process. However, there is also an organic method where none of these are used.

So, it depends on which silk and cotton farming practice you are comparing between. Studies done by Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s claims that silk production is more harmful, while Textile Exchange says otherwise.

Personally I think our practices in purchasing or discarding our clothes are more important, but more on that later!

what is fabric and its types cotton plant

Is silk a biodegradable material

Silk takes about 4 years before it starts to decompose and biodegrade. Polyester, a synthetic material, [Link] on the other hand, takes about 20 years for any decomposition to set it. That makes 4 years look short!

Is silk compostable

On top of being biodegradable, silk is an organic material that is compostable. It might take longer than your fruit peels, but it is doable.

Silk is even considered a zero waste fabric, almost everything in the sericulture process goes back into nature. Mulberry fruits are eaten, wood for timbre, foliage fed to the cattle, waste for fertiliser. Even the silkworms can be used as fertiliser after the silk has been harvested.

Is silk durable

Silk is delicate and requires extra care, yet it is extremely durable. I’ve shared before [Link] that silk was used to make parachutes, but here’s a personal testament. This blouse is more than two decades old, it is on heavy rotation in my wardrobe, accidentally stained multiple times and yet there are no rips in it, true testament of good quality and durability!

(Silk blouse)

Is silk ethical

Ethics is pretty much a personal point of view. Silkworms are killed in the production of silk, which many believe is unethical. But what about killing livestock for meat? Unless you are vegan.

What is silk and where does it come from
None of these silkworms will survive the silk making process

Some point out that sweatshop labour is associated with silk production. But then again, what fabrics aren’t? Sweatshop labour is associated with many fabrics, not just silk, and buying silk from an ethical brand that focuses on fair working conditions and wages is always an option.

To be frank, I am undecided, but I would be curious to find out where you stand on this.

Is silk vegan

The silk fibre itself, is not made from animal flesh, which is what most vegans are adverse to. But with the death of silkworms just mentioned, I don’t quite see how silk can be vegan!

Is silk cruelty-free

Again, with the death of silk worms. Need I say more?

Is wearing silk cruel?

Although I have just said that silk is not vegan, not cruelty free, wearing silk need not be cruel. There is a cruelty free silk option, peace silk or Ahimsa silk.

What is peace silk

Peace silk or Ahimsa silk is also known as non-violent silk. As the name suggests there is no violence involved in the breeding of silkworms and harvesting of silk. The silkworms are allowed to grow into silk moths and emerge from the cocoon naturally.

The broken fibres of the cocoon are harvested then spun together to form silk threads to make silk fabric.

Is silk bad for the environment
The adorable silk moth, Bombyx mori

Is silk environmentally friendly?

The more accurate term instead of friendly would be sustainable and less damaging to the environment. Sustainability is often determined by several factors such as the carbon footprint of production processes by measuring total greenhouse gas emissions; and air, land and water pollution levels to name a few.

The production of silk has the potential to be absolutely horrid to the environment. But it can also fall on the on the other end of the spectrum. Organic silk, that is chemical, hormone free, produced in a sustainable manner is likely to be the least damaging to the environment.

The question is, is the silk you are wearing or purchasing, friendly to the environment?

Sustainable silk that is good for the environment

If you ask me, the most sustainable way it to go naked, but that would leave me confined to my house. The next best option would be sustainable clothes, in this case, sustainable silk.

I usually buy preloved silk pieces, so much more affordable and sustainable! Happy wallet, happy earth, happy me.

If I do get a new silk piece, I try to purchase silks that are produced chemical and hormone free, without or minimal metallic salts in the production process and coloured with low impact dyes. If not, simply, silk from a reputable eco-conscious company.

My thoughts on silk as a sustainable fabric

I believe that our practices affect how sustainable silk is. If you buy any garment, wear it once and then dump it, it does not matter what material it is made of, it harms the environment and is not sustainable. It is not silk that is good or bad for the environment, it is us!