Stringent environmental legislation and consumer awareness are driving the transition to a bio-based economy and models of sustainable development which offer high perspectives for natural fibre markets. Moving to a bio-based economy requires substitution of many common raw materials that are currently largely produced from fossil (petrochemical) or mineral resources, with products produced from renewable (plant and animal based) resources.
Substitute to synthetics
Natural fibres are increasingly being recognized as a favorable substitute to synthetics which use unsustainable inputs. Aside from technical and cost advantages, such products have the added attraction of meeting growing consumer awareness with respect to environmental, sustainability and social standards contributing to:
• Encouraging the growth of sustainable agriculture
• Uptake of environmentally friendly production and processing technologies
• Fostering economic development
• Strengthening the participation of smallholders in the value chain
The hard fibres: Acaba, Coir and Sisal, and bast fibres: Jute and Kenaf, are all natural fibres which have various and multiple end uses. Their versatility and environmentally friendly characteristics are strong advantages over synthetic alternatives. Each of the fibres has their particular strengths but all have the benefit of being naturally derived and increasingly recognised as a sustainable choice.
Technical and economic benefits
Research is increasingly demonstrating the technical and economic benefits of including natural components in industrial products. Therefore, competitive products based on the natural fibres are being developed that show excellent technical performance and harm the environment less than current products based on petrochemical materials. Fibre composites can be found in packaging, building, and furniture materials in addition to the traditional products such as rope, twine and carpets. The economic value of the fibre crop depends on its end-use market and costs of production.
As the popularity of natural fibres in industrial uses expands there are new opportunities for hard fibres and jute to reach high end value markets. The scope of possible uses of the future fibres is enormous. This has been recently highlighted by the declaration of United Nations for 2009 as International Year of Natural Fibres (IYNF).
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