Sensuede is, according to its website, an elegant, supple, high performance textile made with recycled fibers. But Sensuede is not a fabric we’d be excited about selling, and let us tell you why: Sensuade is just a brand name for a polyester microfiber. Ultrasuede was the first of its type. But all microfibers are made in the same way:
Polyester microfibers are spun and cut into short staple lengths, then are bound in a polyurethane base (88% recycled polyester, 12% polyurethane).
- Polyester is made from crude oil, and is the terminal product in a chain of very reactive and toxic precursors. Most are carcinogens: all are poisonous. The manufacturing process requires workers and our environment to be exposed to some or all of the chemicals produced during the manufacturing process. There is no doubt that the manufacture of polyester is an environmental and public health burden that we would be better off without. Polyesters contain many hormone disrupting chemicals that have been more in the news lately.
- Polyurethane used in this process is usually made from toluene diisocyante (TDI) which is highly toxic. It is, in fact, the most toxic plastic known next to PVC. Polyurethane manufacture creates numerous hazardous by-products, including phosgene (used as a lethal gas during WWII), isosyanates (known carcinogens), toluene (teratogenic and embryotoxic) and ozone depleting gases methylene chloride and CFC’s. From Wikipedia: No exposure limits have been established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). It is not regulated by OSHA for carcinogenicity. Polyurethane polymer is a combustible solid and can be ignited if exposed to an open flame. Decomposition from fire can produce mainly carbon monoxide, and trace nitrogen oxides and hydrogen cyanide.
The production of polyester uses antimony as a catalyst, which has been classified as a carcinogen in the State of California since 1990 and a class 3 carcinogen by the EU.
Sensuade’s claim to being eco is that it takes 84% less energy to use recycled polyester than to use virgin polyester. That still leaves energy requirements which are higher than most natural fibers:
|FIBER||energy use in MJ per KG of fiber:|
|cotton, organic, India||12|
|cotton, organic, USA||14|
|Cotton, conventional, USA||55|
|SENSUADE – (uses 84% less energy than virgin poly)||20|
What is not mentioned by Sensuade is that polyester production produces a large quantity of CO2 emissions: the production of polyester generates particulates, CO2, N2O, hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides and carbon monoxide,acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane (also potentially carcinogenic).
The major water-borne emissions from polyester production include dissolved solids, acids, iron and ammonia. Water treatment throughout the production process would be essential for any polyester product to make a claim to being green. But Oeko-Tex 100 has no such requirements at all. Oeko-Tex 100 was a decent start when it was first introdcued twenty years ago, but fabric certifications have come a long way since then in recognizing the envirnomental costs and harm in textile production. Oeko-Tex 1000 is a good standard, but there are very very few mills in the world so certifed.
Also please keep in mind, that if, you choose a synthetic, then you bypass the benefits you’d get from supporting organic agriculture, which may be one of our most potent weapons in fighting climate change, because:
- It acts as a carbon sink: new research has shown that what is IN the soil itself (microbes and other soil organisms in healthy soil) is more important in sequestering carbon that what grows ON the soil. And compared to forests, agricultural soils may be a more secure sink for atmospheric carbon, since they are not vulnerable to logging and wildfire. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon data (which covers 30 years) demonstrates that improved global terrestrial stewardship–specifically including regenerative organic agricultural practices–can be the most effective currently available strategy for mitigating CO2 emissions. 
- It eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which is an improvement in human health and agrobiodiversity
- It conserves water (making the soil more friable so rainwater is absorbed better – lessening irrigation requirements and erosion)
- It ensures sustained biodiversity
And remember, Sensuade is still . . .plastic. Burgeoning evidence about the disastrous consequences of using plastic in our environment continues to mount. A new compilation of peer reviewed articles, representing over 60 scientists from around the world, aims to assess the impact of plastics on the environment and human health and they found:
- Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
- Synthetics do not decompose: in landfills they release heavy metals, including antimony, and other additives into soil and groundwater. If they are burned for energy, the chemicals are released into the air.
But Sensuade is Oeko Tex 100 certified? How can that be?
Because Oeko Tex 100 tests the finished fabric only – and only for process chemicals which are normally used in textile production and which may remain residue in the fabric, not having been washed out in the production steps. Many fabrics made of synthetic fibers can be Oeko Tex 100 certified because the list of chemicals tested for doesn’t include the chemicals found in the fibers. So the dyes used in Sensuade are benign, but the fibers (polyester and polyurethane) are not. And Oeko Tex doesn’t require water treatment, which is critically needed to prevent the water borne emissions from polyester and polyurethane production from entering our groundwaters. And Sensuade doesn’t mention anything about capturing emissions.
Is it safe because of the Oeko Tex certification? Remember, each time you sit down microscopic particles abrade and fly into the air, so you can breathe them in. So you’re not eating the fabrics, but your body is porous – the environment isus.
From our blog post on 9.9.2011:
The Global Recycle Standard (GRS), originated by Control Union and now administered by Textile Exchange (formerly Organic Exchange), is intended to establish independently verified claims as to the amount of recycled content in a yarn, with the important added dimension of prohibiting certain chemicals, requiring water treatment and upholding workers rights, holding the weaver to standards similar to those found in the Global Organic Textile Standard:
- Companies must keep full records of the use of chemicals, energy, water consumption and waste water treatment including the disposal of sludge;
- All prohibitied chemicals listed in GOTS are also prohibited in the GRS;
- All wastewater must be treated for pH, temperature, COD and BOD before disposal;
- There is an extensive section related to worker’s rights.