Have you ever heard about jute? This plant has been cultivated since ancient Egypt era and history wrote that it has been part of many civilizations. But albeit its history, this plant can be the future of our fiber cultivation and replace cotton. Why?
Cotton is one of the most cultivated plants on this planet, because it is the most popular fiber crop. By that, we know that cotton fiber is in very high demand. Most of the plant’s fiber production goes to textiles industry.
Because of that, even though the plant itself is not a menace to the environment, but the way we want to keep the number of yield high is. Therefore, cotton plantation can sometimes one of the least eco-friendly plantations we know.
Is this the time to move into jute to end the ‘dirty’ cotton? Let’s talk about what this plant can do first and decide later.
The Grey Cotton
Cotton is white in color, and we all know that’s one of the reasons why this plant is loved by textile industry. White is the most neutral color and it can be turned into literally any color easily without the need of additional processes.
But even though the color of cotton is naturally white, this plant is not that ‘white’ in its cultivation and production processes. The production process of cotton often includes the use of heavy chemicals, consumes a lot of water, and results in soil degradation.
Global cotton production consumes 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of all insecticides, on top of other crops on the list. It even also includes three of the most dangerous chemicals according to the World Health Organization.
That condition is worsened by the plant’s water consumption. Don’t you know that to make a single 100% cotton t-shirt you need 2,700 liters of water? Aral Sea is one example of how dire cotton can be, since nowadays it has shrunk by 85% after being drained by surrounding cotton plantations.
Moreover, such high consumption of water also results in soil degradation. Take note that this plant is usually cultivated in huge monocultural agricultural land. Other plants usually find it difficult to grow around and after cotton plantation.
The Green Jute
So now you understand that cotton is a little bit ‘grey’, right? But what can be the alternative for cotton? Above we have mentioned about another plant called jute. Jute is a plant from the mallow family of Malvaceae.
Jute can be harvested from scratch after 120 to 150 days, compared to cotton that can be harvested more than 160 days after planted. And in one harvesting process alone, jute produces a lot more products compared to cotton.
But that’s not the reason why this plant is greener than cotton. The reason is because this plant breathes in a lot of carbon dioxide and in exchange for that produces a lot of oxygen. Just like plants are supposed to be, jute is carbon negative.
One hectare of jute plants will absorb around 15 tons of carbon dioxide, or around what average American emits in a year. This is also equivalent of how much carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere for the production of around 7.5 tons of steel.
And in exchange, the plant also emits oxygen. A lot of oxygen, which is around 11 tons of it for every hectare. In addition to that, jute is also mainly rain fed! If those things don’t make jute a greener plant compared to cotton, then what will do?
Again, let’s compare how jute is better for the environment compared to cotton. Above we have explained that jute produces more fiber in less days compared to cotton. From that alone you should understand that we can always get more from jute.
Why? Different from cotton whose fiber is harvested from its seed boll, jute’s fiber is harvested from its bast or its skin. This plant produces soft, long, and shiny bast fiber which is usually spun into long threads. The threads are then used to produce any kind of product.
India and Bangladesh are the two biggest producers of jute with more than 1 million tons of jute produced every single year. While China, Brazil, Egypt, Nepal, and Vietnam belong to top 10 producers with total production no more than 50,000 tons a year.
But that doesn’t mean other countries cannot participate in the movement. It is just that other countries have not dedicated their energy to plant jute in their land. Nowadays, the demand for jute fiber is increasing because of its cheapness and versality. Yes, jute produces one of the most versatile products, and more people are starting to understand it.
Versality of Jute
Now, can you make a list of things that can be made of cotton? Maybe cottonseed oil and cotton fabric products like clothing, dollars, and wet wipes will dominate the answer. But what can jute do? Definitely a lot more than cotton.
The fiber that jute produces is strong, durable, and cheap. When processed, the fiber can become as smooth as cotton fiber but more biodegradable. That’s why the fiber of jute is also called as golden fiber and planting it is included in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Not only products made of its fabric, the plant can also contribute as the ingredient of Jute-tin, an innovation of Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan from Bangladesh. The innovation saw jute hessian as an alternative to lead and zinc to create tin-like material.
The plant can also be used to create biodegradable plastic bag alternative called Sonali bag. The plastic-like material turns to ash when burned and dissolves in water. In addition to that, the tensile strength is 1.5 higher than plastic, making it better in quality.
Sonali means golden in Bangladeshi, and it is a reference to the nickname of golden fiber mentioned above. Jute is just very versatile and good for the environment. nevertheless, the fact that it can be processed both traditionally or in modern style makes it good for any level of industry.