The Lesser of the Two Evils

Material Diversity was the topic this week.  There is a lot of material diversity in the interiors field:  stone, wood, laminate, nylon, cotton, etc.  There was also the discussion of natural vs. synthetic and which was the most “sustainable.”  The article “Material Maze mentioned some key differences between the two. The natural category is sustainable in the fact that this category is made from renewable resources that are biodegradable.  These products are often agriculturally produced  which means there was most likely petroleum based products harvesting and processing the renewable resources.  Pesticides are also used to protect the crop but they also harm the environment by polluting the ground water and air.  Soil erosion is a result of farming because the soil gets depleted of nutrients then runs off.  Natural materials like cotton require intense processing and the use of large quantities of water pre-consumer and post-consumer. Synthetic fibers are not made with renewable resources but can most likely be recycled.  These materials are petroleum based, which is non-renewable but the process of making these synthetics does not use as much petroleum.  However, a harmful heavy metal called antimony is used to make these synthetic materials.  Antimony is harmful to humans and the environment.  Water is used heavily in the making and life-time of these synthetic materials.  Transportation of materials is an issue for both natural and synthetic materials.  I thought the lesser of the two evils was natural materials.  Yes, there are some drawbacks, like the amount of water consumption, and soil erosion, but I thought since they are made up of renewable resources it made it better for the environment.  These natural materials can go back into the biological process for food later on, if they are not treated with chemicals and things like that.   

The relevance of this article for me was that there are more and more synthetic materials being produced that cannot be put back into nature, but seem to be recyclable.  It is important to understand that both natural and synthetic processes both have drawbacks in their sustainability criteria.  

The usefulness of this article for me was to look for other options when selecting finishes in a project.  There are tons of materials out there that are more sustainable than others and more durable and things like that.  I think just knowing there are other alternatives is a starting point in being sustainable.  

My lingering question is “can we really every get away from synthetic materials?”  I would say no.

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