Sustainability of chainsaw protective clothing

Have you been wondering about your carbon footprint, sustainable fabrics and end of life possibilities lately? In fact, we noticed some discussions on foresters and arborists platforms. Sustainability of chainsaw protective clothing is indeed an important topic that we address and emphasise.

A while ago, we found some comments on a forum for arborists and foresters on how producers of chainsaw protective clothing don’t seem to pay attention or only pay little attention to sustainable production. It’s obvious that we aim to offer our customers and SIP Protection wearers the products they desire. We definitely take your comments into consideration, but your safety will always remain our first priority.

When it comes to the sustainability of chainsaw protective clothing, there are a number of factors we have to keep in mind, such as fabric selection, the lifespan of a garment and your comfort.

The misconception of man-made versus natural fabrics

The textiles define both comfort (ergonomics) and safety (protection), it is key to your wellbeing and a key driver in forestry and arboriculture applications. You’ll find an overview and characteristics on the SIP-protection website. You might wonder why fancy “green” sportswear fabrics that are in high demand are not in scope. The answer is easy: their poor level of protection is unfit for the requirements of forestry and arboriculture.

Second, natural raw materials, such as cotton have the natural property people seem to be looking for when they think of sustainable garments, but natural doesn’t necessarily mean less polluting. In fact, synthetic fibres are often portrayed way too negatively. For natural raw materials, the water consumption is often extremely high, sometimes biocides are used for growing them and chemicals and additives are used even in these natural materials. For example, on average 2,700 litres of water is needed to produce just one cotton T-shirt (The Conscious challenge). That equals more than 5 bottles of water per day for an entire year. Contrarily to what one might think about materials such as Polyester (PES) and their sometimes poor reputation, a 100% PES quality can be entirely recycled and reused as fabric. Cotton can also be recycled, including into yarn, provided that the fibre length is not too damaged or shortened by its use and washing of the cotton. In addition, cotton - even the short fibres - can be chemically recycled into viscose.

Third, you will probably agree that you prefer to wear comfortable fabrics. A popular example is that stretch fabrics are often preferred over the old-fashioned polycotton. Unfortunately, this preference makes your garments less sustainable, as stretch is not a mono-blend, making it very difficult to recycle. As soon as cotton fibres are blended with other fibres, it’s no longer a mono-blend and it becomes harder to recycle. It’s the same case with Polyester or Polyamide fibres that are combined with Lycra, Elasthane, … to create a more comfortable stretch fabric.

Fourth, synthetic fibres are naturally more resistant and repellent to pollution than natural fibres. A possible solution to use natural fibres and to make them more durable, is by using a durable water repellent (DWR), such as PFAS. Its production, however, is polluting.

And finally, for your comfort, we aim to keep the weight of your chainsaw trousers as low as possible. Natural fibres are mechanically weaker than most synthetic fibres, meaning that you need more fibres ergo, weight to achieve the same level of protection. This directly increases the weight (decreases the comfort) of the trousers. In addition, natural fibres absorb more water, which again increases the weight. Maintaining a low weight is one of the reasons we choose not to use natural fibres.

Sustainability is choosing durable, high-quality garments

Obviously, not wearing chainsaw trousers would be the most ecological solution. But safety first, remember? The second-best solution is using the least possible raw materials by buying a long-lasting quality garment, and to maintain and wash it according to the maintenance instructions.

The longer you can responsibly use your chainsaw protective garments, the fewer you have to replace them. This directly influences the product’s full production cycle, meaning that it impacts all stages from yarn or fibre production and spinning over weaving and knitting to adding a finish, confectioning and logistics.

Choosing durable high-quality garments has an enormous impact on the full production cycle, while the choice between natural or synthetic fibres and possible recycling options only impact the fibre production phase.

Simply said, if your chainsaw trousers have a longer life cycle, we’ll by natural consequence need to manufacture less trousers, so need less resources and fabrics.

Lifespan depends on quality, contamination and wash cycles

To extend your product’s lifespan:

  1. it’s best to use stronger fabric qualities that have a longer lifespan;

  2. the confectioning should be highly qualitative, allowing the clothing to be washed more often. We recommend using your chainsaw trousers between 35 and 50 washes, but we do strongly recommend air dry (no tumble drying). It’s not the washing itself that is the problem. It’s the contamination (fuel, chain oil, sawdust, sweat, etc.) that reduces the protection level. It can damage the fibres or make them stick together. In short, the less you wash them, the less protection they will provide;

  3. a water and oil repellent finish should be used (to increase the safety as well);

  4. your chainsaw protective clothing should, by preference, be ‘developed to repair’, which means that it should be made in such a way that the outer fabric can be repaired. Of course, as mentioned in the washing instructions, always keep in mind that you should never stitch through the protective inlay. The blocking material should never be altered. Only the outer fabric can be repaired.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that those ways to extend your product’s lifespan will also influence its price.

In conclusion, there isn’t an obvious or unambiguous solution. Many topics are to be taken into account. As a producer, we would like to add that we have already taken a number of sustainability measures:

  • Solar panels on our production sites
  • Hangtags are no longer used (reduction of 150 kg or 46 km of plastic threads)
  • A large part of our packaging is already made of recycled cardboard
  • We have developed a sustainable hoodie in recycled Polyester and organic cotton

There is more to come! We’re looking forward to telling you about it, but we need a bit more time.

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