Thursday, January 19, 2012

The True "Safety" of Bottled Water

News about human conflicts and wars are dominating the headlines in newspapers and news websites. One of the most talked about wars isn't being fought overseas and it's being waged through corporate talks and conversations instead of guns and other weapons. It's a war over resources and personal preferences, and it's all over bottled water.
Envipco is an organization that focuses on rewarding companies for recycling (beverage companies in particular) and it has a unique board of directors that are made up of leaders from different industries. One of the most popular selling points for bottled water is the alleged safety of the product. If people knew the truth about how safe the average bottle of Poland Springs is, they wouldn't buy bottle water again.
Questionable Sources
It would be a lie to say that all municipal water sources are 100% clean and safe, but companies blatantly lie when they advertise their water as "fresh from natural water springs." According to the National Resources Defense Council 40% of bottled water is regular tap water, and public aquifers and water resources are used far more to harvest bottled water than "fresh" springs and streams are.
Harvesting the product from public resources also can create problems for local communities. Companies rarely pay top dollar for the resources they take, towns and communities where water is taken seldom see any profits from the water they supply. Some bottlers take water without factoring in local droughts or community water needs, so some companies have the potential to actually deplete local aquifers and groundwater resources.
False Safety
Some of you may be wondering what's so terrible about a beverage that made a software executive like Gregory S. Garvey and a cement trader like Alexander F Bouri work against it. Organizations like Envipco encourage corporate recycling in hopes of lessening the environmental damage plastic pollution causes, but disposable plastic water bottles cause far more than just environmental damage. Public water resources are far more heavily monitored than the water used in bottled waters. The EPA requires utility companies to test public water resources hundreds of times each month, but the FDA only requires bottling companies to test their water supply once a week. When it comes to checking for chemical, physical, and radiological contaminants in bottled water, the FDA only requires a single test per year.
The National Resources Defense Council tested 103 brands and around one quarter of the brands tested had chemical and bacterial contamination levels that violated state standards. The same study also found that one-fifth of the tested brands exceeded state bottled water microbial guidelines. The FDA also doesn't require bottles and their contents to be checked for phthalates and other chemicals commonly used in plastic bottle production. Overall the FDA also only monitors around 30%-40% of water that's transported along state lines. Many people end up drinking questionable and potentially dangerous water when they think they're getting 100% natural and safe bottled water.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name: About TENCEL Fabric

TENCEL® is a trademarked brand name the Tencel Group (now owned by Lenzing AG) gave to their lyocell fiber fabric. Lyocell is produced from the wood pulp cellulose of various hardwoods. Cellulose is the natural cell fibers in all vegetation. Eucalyptus trees provide the greatest yield per acre and it is believed the best fiber quality. In keeping with being earth friendly, wood pulp cellulose is collected from trees that are sustainably farmed.
A subcategory of rayon, lyocell fibers are used in making a variety of textiles and it shares many of the characteristics of rayon, ramie, cotton, and linen. Lyocell fiber fabric is a durable material with a soft luxurious feel. A variety of fabric finishes ranging from 'silky soft' to more of a 'woven knit type' surface can be achieved by using abrasive actions on the wet fibers. The tenacious characteristic of the fibers give it strength. Because it is cellulosic, it is fully biodegradable and therefore considered an environmentally friendly material.
Because the surface of the fabric can be manipulated into different textures, lyocell fiber fabric is adaptable for use in developing a variety of products. Garments made with this fabric drape well, are soft, breathable, and moisture wicking. This fabric pulls moisture from the skin releasing it into the air avoiding any bacteria from forming between the fabric and the skin. Lyocel fiber clothing tends to be great for traveling as it is lightweight, comfortable, wrinkle resistant, machine washable, quick to dry, and durable. Because of the absorbent and quick drying properties, this fabric is perfect for making towels, bandages, and baby wipes. Other uses include sheets, blankets, upholstery, car carpeting, and oil filters. Powder from the fibers is used to make specialized papers, is an ingredient used in certain building materials and is found in foam mattresses.

The Production Process 
Lyocell is made from wood chips from sustainably farmed trees. Wood chips are chemically softened with an ecofriendly non-toxic solvent forming a wet pulp. The wood pulp is dried into a continuous paper-like sheet. Sheet rolls are sent to a mill where they are broken into pieces and further dissolved in an organic solvent to form a thick solution. The solution is then pumped through small holes forming long strands of fibers. These fibers are dried, soap or silicone is applied to detangle and then the fibers are bundled. The bundles of continuous lengths of dried finished fibers are machine textured and combed to separate the strands. These strands are baled for shipment to manufacturers for weaving into fabric used to create garments and other products.

Environmental Considerations 
Made from plant material, Lyocell is considered a natural product and is easily biodegradable. Raw materials are harvested from certified pesticide free sustainable tree farms. These farms are on lands that are unsuitable for anything else like food crops or grazing. The yield of harvested wood pulp is dissolved in a non-toxic organic solvent. When this solution is pushed through small holes to produce fiber, the solvent extruded is reclaimed in a 'closed loop' process with minimal environmental impact. Because the process reuses more than 99% of the solvent it is considered relatively eco-friendly. The process however uses a substantial amount of energy.

Although production of lyocell fibers is considered eco-friendly, turning the fibers into textiles may not be. Because of its tendency to pill some manufacturers resort to use of harsh chemical processes to weaken surface hairs so they can be removed to avoid pilling. It is difficult to get dyes to bind to the surface of lyocell fibers, causing some manufactures to resort to use of conventional dye treatments that are harmful to the environment. There are quite a few manufactures with earth friendly leanings that avoid the harsh chemicals and use low impact dyes which are more eco-friendly.
All things considered lyocell fiber fabric is a great earth friendly material to use in a variety of products. Its many attractive properties make it a great choice for products ranging from exercise clothes - moisture wicking properties, travel garments - wrinkle free properties, towels - quick drying properties, and auto carpeting - durability.

Although not organic, it is still considered a natural product. Fibers are produced from sustainable raw materials and are biodegradable. The close loop process of producing the fibers keeps waste by-products to a minimum. Of most concern is the possible use of harsh chemicals to turn the fibers into fabric. Those with chemical sensitivities and those wanting to remain eco-friendly should search out manufacturers that avoid the use of heavy chemicals and dyes in the production process.