|company: Salewa and Cargill Dow LLC|
country: Germany, USA
product: Jummy T-shirt, and Ingeo (NatureWorks PLA) fibre
intro: the German adventure sports manufacturer Salewa claims that they’re the first and only company to market Ingeo. (There was going to be someone else first, but more on that later.) You’re probably going to hear a lot more about Ingeo in the future as more and more products using the fibre start appearing. Salewa maintains that their shirts made of Ingeo “direct perspiration moisture immediately away from the body, dry extremely quickly and feel as comfortable as silk.” But then this is what next-to-skin outdoor sports apparel manufacturers usually state.
So what’s the big deal? What does this have to do with sustainability? Ingeo is made from corn! Strictly speaking, it’s made from fermented corn starch. Like Tencel and hemp-based clothing, Ingeo is a man-made fibre derived from a renewable natural source. And there’s more. When your shirt wears out, you can compost it - it’s biodegradable. Fantastic, no? Well, nearly...
controversy: Patagonia thought it was a great idea too. A couple of years ago they were ready to launch a line of fleece jackets made from Ingeo as an ‘industry first’. Except that at the last minute they discovered that the supplier, Cargill Dow, wasn’t able to guarantee that no genetically modified corn had been used in the process.. Patagonia pulled out - they are strongly against GMOs. Even now Cargill Dow isn’t clear about the source of their corn starch. If you go to the Q&A page on their website and ask:
But if you dig deeper you’ll find a quite different Q&A:
- Does Ingeo fiber contain genetically modified material?
- The answer is: "Ingeo fibers do not contain genetically modified material, nor does its production require any genetically modified raw material."
Your next question is obvious. How can they say Ingeo doesn't contain GMOs when they aren’t able to demand that their suppliers segregate GMO from non-GMO corn? Cargill Dow says that the processing used to derive Natureworks PLA (polylactic acid), which Ingeo fibres are made from, "removes all traces of genetic material." So while the product may not contain it, the source material most probably did - over 30% of all corn grown in the US is said to be genetically 'enhanced'.
- Why does Cargill Dow use dextrose from GM crops.
- A. “We use what is available in the supply chain. Today, the corn growing, distribution and processing supply chain does not maintain segregation of genetically enhanced corn and conventional corn through to the dextrose Cargill Dow purchases."
who is behind it: Cargill Dow LLC. was founded in 1997. It is based in Minnesota, USA and is active worldwide with offices in the Netherlands and Japan. It is the first company to offer a family of polymers derived entirely from annually renewable resources and with the costs and performances necessary to compete with packaging materials and traditional fibres. The company achieved this breakthrough by applying an innovative technology to the processing of natural plant sugars to create a proprietary polylactide polymer (PLA).
what is PLA: PLA stands for Polylactide, a versatile polymer made from lactic acid, which in turn is derived from the fermentation of dextrose. PLA can be used in a wide range of applications such as apparel (i.e.: sport, active and underwear), rigid thermoforms (consumer displays, electronics packaging, disposable articles, cold drink cups) or non-wovens (agricultural and geo textiles, feminine hygiene products, shoe liners).
product: the Salewa Jummy woman's shirt will be available in 2005, in the shades of anthracite, rose, lime, sunglow, cloud and sand. A man's version will also be available shortly. At SALEWA, Ingeo® is used in three different functional items each for men and women. The fashionable T-shirts of the 5 Continents travel and leisurewear collection are offered in various colours and cuts. Ingeo® has been tested and certified by the Hohenstein Research Institute according to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100.
sustainable features: what makes Ingeo® fibres unique is that they are extremely environmentally friendly. Ingeo® is the only artificial fibre produced from 100% annually renewable resources. The textiles produced from them are entirely biodegradable.
As it is for conventional functional fibres, the basis for production of Ingeo® fibres is carbon. In contrast to nylon and polyester fibres, the source of carbon for which is non-renewable oil, Ingeo® uses carbon which is absorbed from the air by corn during the photosynthesis process. For the production of Ingeo® fibres the vegetable starch is split into vegetal sugar molecules which are then subject to a fermentation process. Finally, from the carbon and other molecules of this naturally fermented sugar, NatureWorks polymers are produced, and used to create the fibres.
While Cargill Dow’s efforts to create a sustainable product deserve recognition, this will be a genuine breakthrough only if and when the PLA application can clearly state whether or not GMOs are used in its production. In this way consumers can make informed purchasing choices. Someday in the future PLA fibre could represent a revolutionary alternative for the textile industry. But you, the consumer, need to keep your eyes open and look beyond the marketing buzz to decide if a product meets your criteria of sustainability. Or, as the saying goes, Buyer Beware!