Jute is an amazing fibre – it’s incredibly sustainable, it’s affordable, it’s fast-drying and it’s breathable. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how this fibre is cultivated, the type of fabrics it makes and just why it’s so eco-friendly.
Jute comes from a vegetable, which is derived from the plant family Sparrmanniaceae. There are many varieties of jute, but almost all have the same properties: long, soft and shiny fibres. Because of the fibre’s strength, it can be spun into coarse, strong, durable yarn or threads. This yarn is then used to make the sturdy hessian or burlap and gunny cloth.
Because of its off-white to brown colour, and its high cash value, it is called “the golden fibre.” It was also considered “the wonder crop,” until synthetic fibres entered the market and quickly replaced it.
As I mentioned, jute is a plant. It grows tall in fields on individual stems. Like cotton, the amount of jute produced in the world, and the variety of its uses is enormous! It is also grown very similarly to cotton – except with the enormous difference that it uses much less water, requires no chemical pesticides and fertilizers to grow, and replenishes much faster.
All that’s needed in order for jute to grow, is a combination of standing water and alluvial soil. Alluvial soil is the soil deposited from flowing streams and ripe with vitamins and minerals, so is already incredibly fertile. Warm and wet climes are best for optimum growth, especially during the monsoon season where there is a good deal of humidity (70-80%). If the rainfall in a region is about 5-8 cm each week, and a bit higher during sowing time, you can expect amazing jute growth! For the best crop, soft water is used during production. It only takes from 4-6 months for the plant to reach maturity.
The history of jute revolves largely around its cheap production, due to how quick and easy it is to grow, and the cheaper products it was consequently used to create. Towards the end of the 18th century, Europeans discovered Indian jute as a substitute for flax (used to make linen). It was a less expensive and better source of fibre for packaging purposes.
The first record of jute leaving its native India was in 1793. Prior to this, according to historical documents, Indian villagers used to wear clothing made of white jute. They had little income, but could afford this fabric. Similarly, ropes and twine made of white jute were widely used in households and for other applications. This was especially true of the Bengalis. The material was also made into sacks for carrying grain and other agricultural products such as potatoes.
Two hundred years later, jute is indispensable in almost every nation. What was once a monopoly of post-partition Bangladesh, now faces competition from India, China, Thailand, Nepal and Burma for production.
Another jute variety is Tossa jute, which is used in both culinary and fabric applications. In Africa and the Middle East it is used as a herb. Tossa jute is also mentioned in biblical references in the Book of Job as a food called “Jews mallow.” Also called molukhia, it is a popular Middle Eastern dish that is picked at harvest and frozen or dried so it can be eaten year-round.
What Are The Textiles Used For?
Because of its amazing durable properties, some designers are misled when it comes to using jute. Don’t be deceived! Jute can be made into wall coverings, rugs, curtains, reusable shopping bags, carpet backing and more! Some designers even take advantage of its incredible sheen to replace silk as a less expensive alternative. Others have found that blending it with different fibres, such as cotton, expand its use in clothing and other applications. Conversely, when the stem of the fibre, jute hurd, is used in production, it can become much harder and sturdier, and an excellent replacement for wood. Its reach continues to expand as people in more specialized fields study it.
Why Is Jute An Eco Fibre?
- Just like soy, hemp and bamboo, jute combats the negative impacts of cotton production:
- As well as having natural UV protection, jute grows without the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
- Not only is it completely biodegradable, but it is also a recyclable fibre.
- Jute reaches maturity quickly, between 4-6 months, making it an incredibly efficient source of renewable material, and therefore “sustainable”.
- It relies on natural rainfall, rather than extensive and hugely consuming irrigation systems.
- Like bamboo, jute absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen much faster than trees.
- And jute also enhances the fertility of the soil it grows on for future crops.
There are a number of projects where jute farmers and producers are being supported to create a more sustainable future for themselves, with access to training and business advice for farmers. A great example, is the work that the work that CARE do with the help of the Cartier Charitable Foundation. CARE’s program aims to strengthen the competitiveness of Bangladeshi exports through the promotion of jute, increasing income for vulnerable producers and alleviating poverty.
The sustainable fibre is also being looked at in the field of engineering along with hemp and flax due to its hard wearing properties. Extensive research is being done to broaden the applications of the fibre, by manipulating durability, strength, elasticity and weight.
Advantages of jute bags
The use of jute bags instead of plastic bags offers many advantages, including the following:
- Jute bags are ecological.
- Jute bags are durable.
- Jute bags degrade biologically in 1-2 years.
- Jute bags are extremely strong.
- Jute bags are sustainable.
- Jute bags can be reused and are very environmentally friendly.
- Jute bags are Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
- Jute bags have a low CO2 footprint
- Jute bags are 100% compostable
- Jute bags are trendy and hip!