Bast fibers are the fibrous part of the plant just below the bark. They are a family of fibers that allow for the entire plant to be used. These fibers are annually renewable crops that come off of the stalks rather than the leaves and grow in 90 to 100 days. These low maintenance, high-quality fibers do not require chemicals or pesticides, they put nutrients back into the earth similar to nitrates, take up less space and water, and erosion is nonexistent. For these reasons, bast fibers are quickly becoming the millennial alternative for environmental responsibility.
Jute is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant and tossa jute. It grows best in wet climates with humidity ranging 60 to 80%. Jute is a rain-fed crop with almost no need for fertilizer or pesticides, making it environmentally friendly.
Named the “golden fiber”, jute is a long, soft, shiny vegetable fiber with a length of 3 to 13 feet (1 to 4 meters). These fibers are primarily composed of the plant materials cellulose, which is a major component of the plant fiber, and lignin, which are major components of the wood fiber.
Jute, being one of the most affordable fibers, has a number of benefits associated with it. These plants are easy to grow and have a high yield per acre. This fiber is also eco-friendly in that it helps to clean the air, is good for the soil, and serves as a source of wood pulp. The commonly used fabric, burlap is made from jute.
Although it is commonly associated with the Cannabis sativa plant, industrial hemp has its own distinct strain with low concentrations of THC and high concentrations of cannabidiol, which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects. The inner two fibers of hemp are the portions of the plant used in non-woven items and other industrial applications. While hemp was once considered taboo because of its associations to cannabis, the plant has come full circle and is now considered one of the best alternatives to synthetic plastics and foams.
The fiber of the hemp plant is one of the most valuable parts of it. It is commonly referred to as blast, which are the fibers that grow on the outside of the plant’s stalk. Hemp fibers can be approximately 3 to 15 feet (1 to 5 meters) in length. Dependent upon the processing used to remove the fiber from the stem, the hemp may be creamy white, brown, gray, black or green.
There have recently begun many efforts to grow hemp more prominently in the United States because of its benefits. Hemp is strong, grows quickly and is extremely durable. It does not mildew nor does it require any pesticides or herbicides and only needs moderate amounts of fertilizer.
Flax fiber is removed from the bast (bark) beneath the surface of the stem of the flax plant. Flax is harvested for fiber production after approximately 100 days or a month after the plant flowers and two weeks after the seed capsules form. Another telling sign is that the base of the plant begins to turn yellow. The best grades of flax are used for linen fabrics, while the coarser grades are used to make twine and rope.
Flax fiber is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is two to three times stronger than cotton and is naturally smooth and straight.
Kenaf is a biennial herbaceous plant with a woody base that grows 1.5 to 3.5 meters (5 to 12 feet) tall. The stems are 0.4 to 0.8 inches (1 to 2 centimeters) in diameter and are often branched. The leaves vary in shape being deeply lobed near the base of the stems and shallowly lobed at the top. The flowers also vary in color as they can be white, yellow or purple.
The fibers in kenaf can be found in the bast (bark) and core (wood). The bast makes up 40% of the plant and the core is approximately 60% of the plant. Its main uses are for rope, twine and coarse cloth but has additional uses ranging from engineered wood to animal bedding.
Sisal is a hard fiber extracted from the leaves of sisal plants, which are perennial succulents. The sisal plant grows well year-round in hot climates and arid regions, often unsuitable for other crops. Sisal can be harvested from two years after planting and its productive life is nearly 12 years, producing 180 to 240 leaves depending on location, altitude, level of rainfall and plant variety.
The sisal fiber is very long with an average length of 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) and is creamy white to yellowish in color. It is coarse, durable and strong with the ability to stretch. It has good insulation properties and is highly resistant to bacterial damage and deterioration in saltwater.
Measured over its lifetime, sisal absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. It also generates organic wastes and leaf residues that can be used to make bioenergy, produce animal feed, fertilizer and more. It is 100% biodegradable and sisal strings and ropes can be recycled as paper.