Linen company gets greener with organic flax

flax plant flowers
CC BY 2.0 Flax - doesn't need much water and it's pretty too! Photo by Max Hagwall/Flickr

Flax seeds, touted for their nutritional benefits, are full of omega-3s and anti-oxidants which are great for the body. The plant itself is also great for cloth. Flax fibers have been turned into linen for millennia.

This cloth has a relatively small environmental impact, especially since linen is a structurally resilient and biodegradable material. So if you’re looking for green bed sheets, you should consider flax. Compared to other plants used in cloth making, like cotton, flax needs relatively little water and less energy. Flax uses 13 times fewer pesticides than potatoes. And yet, it is only 1 percent of world apparel fiber consumption, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The market continues to be dominated by cotton and synthetic fibers. This is partially because flax tends to thrive more in colder areas like Western Europe, whereas cotton thrives in hotter climates and is mass produced in places like China and India.

“At the present time flax is mostly grown for its seed,” said Hans Kandell, an extension agronomist focusing on broadleaf crops. “Flax in the US has a hard time to compete with corn and soybean – both crops will often give higher returns and are easier to grow.”

While flax is generally eco-friendly, it is, of course, even better when grown organically. That’s why Libeco, a Belgian linen company, that has created an organic linen line.

Libeco, founded in1858, passed on from generation to generation to its present CEO, Raymond Libeert, has been developing a number of eco-friendly and sustainable measures in the company.

© Courtesy of Libeco

“As a family we’ve always been quite close to nature,” Libeert told TreeHugger. “As a company it’s important that we produce textiles in the most ecological way and I think linen is a fantastic fiber for the future.”

Libeco found a group of French farmers who had been growing organic flax for the last 10 years and bought a large part of the crop for linen production. At first, Libeert said there were concerns that organic flax would not be as easy to spin or weave, but the fiber has turned out to be unproblematic and just as easy to produce as the non-organic form.

“The farmers produce flax that is as good as conventional flax – maybe even better. It’s very encouraging,” Libeert added. “At the start it’s a little bit expensive, and that was a concern at the beginning. But, we’re in a very specific market. We knew from the beginning that the organic will not be for all our customers.”

About a month ago Libeco became Cradle to Cradle certified – a certification that we love at TreeHugger. Their undyed, off the loom fabric can be fully recycled. “In the long term, we want to eliminate every chemical we can,” said Libeert.

Dyes can contain a lot of chemicals, so it’s important to buy undyed or naturally dyed materials. Flax produces a warm grey color when it hasn’t been bleached or colored, so you can visually tell when you’re getting the natural product. It’s still good to check the label just to be sure, though.

© The darker gray colors on linen are more natural - they have little to no dye. Image courtesy of Libeco

Libeco also reduced their carbon emissions by a third in the last two years. They became carbon neutral by offsetting their remaining emissions by investing in sustainability projects in Uganda. To learn more about their products, check out their website.

Tags: Agriculture | Bedrooms | Belgium | Cotton | Cradle To Cradle | Sustainable Fabrics

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