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Since there are some yarn crafters floating around this site, I wonder if my story and my concerns are shared with anyone here. Hopefully the answer is yes.
I’ve crocheted as a hobby for a long time focusing on practical things like blankets and scarves and pretty much anything flat. I’ve taken on a lot of yarn from unfinished projects from others to make new pieces, and I’ve also deconstructed some pieces and turned them into new works. For a time I wanted to make that an aspect of a crafting-based business. There are plenty of learner projects that end up in charity shops after all.
I soon ran into some issues of quality while on this personal venture. The vast majority of yarn readily available on the market is plastic based, usually 100% acrylic or some combination of different plastic sources. This is really not the best quality yarn. Heck, I acquired some cheap acrylic yarn that actually feels greasy! It’s quite gross. If not washed properly the first time around, acrylic yarn pills and gets strange fuzzy stands all over that need to be shaved off. Acrylic is also not that great fro things that really need to be sturdy, say a market bag, or a wash towel. (Cotton is usually better.) I’ve also run into a lot of acrylics that are not as soft as others, so I don’t feel comfortable using it to make something for a child say. Then I saw a random comment on Yahoo! Answers that made me really worry: supposedly the plastic and other chemicals from acrylic yarns are lost in wash water and contaminate drinking water supplies. Quite the “oh crap” moment. The statement makes sense, since there is always a change in yarn quality if washed incorrectly (I’ve actually found that the warm water suggestion on the label just makes the problem worse.)
I tried researching the issue on my own but without real luck. I only found sites that were run by companies within the yarn making industry, so I didn’t feel comfortable trusting their word on safety. I even made an inquiry to the EPA, but just got sent back to the same confusing industry sites. The whole thing led me to another question: since it’s still plastic, what can we actually do with it? We can take damaged or scrap pieces and rework them into new projects until the cows come home, but it’s still plastic. It’s still an unnatural chemical. If acrylic yarn catches fire, it melts and adds noxious fumes to the already overtaxed atmosphere. What happens in the case of a flood or tornado or other natural disaster where an acrylic piece may be ruined beyond repair and must be thrown away? Does it just sit in a landfill with all the other plastic? Will it get washed to sea and added to the gyres of swirling bits of old water bottles? Acrylic yarn doesn’t have its own recycle number, and I have not heard of any programs to recycle the actual material itself in my area. So what do we do with our old, terrible quality acrylic yarns in the transition to plastic-free crafting?
The EPA gave me these links.
American Fibers Manufacturers Association http://www.afma.org/afma/afma.htm
It makes me feel silly, but reading through most of it I either get confused with the scientific particulars or find that the sites were not that user friendly. If anyone has dealt with this issue before, hopefully we can share findings and maybe come up with a solution or find those who already have.
Great post. Check out this article about micro plastics from synthetic lint washing into oceans.
Sadly, I don't think there is a perfect solution. You can give the yarn away to other crafters who would buy it anyway. I always figure that if they are going to buy it anyway, I would rather they have mine than buy new stuff.
I knitted with acrylic yarns for years before I understood anything about plastic and have quite a few finished projects that I will keep and treasure even though they are synthetic. But I don't buy it or use it anymore.
I ran into the same issues in creating a new line of iPad cases. Once I started investigating the environmental impact of plastics, I went with wool instead. But most wool is actually made from plastic, so I had to find 100% natural wool from sheep.
As for resources, I was shocked to hear that the EPA sent you to industry websites. Sounds like the fox guarding the henhouse. But if you know the specific chemical you're concerned about (BPA, etc.), a search of the EPA website can be pretty effective. Also, I post regularly about the latest research on the effects of plastics used in crafts and manufacturing at our company's facebook page.
I actually meant to respond sooner, but got distracted. Glad I am though that the conversation has continued.
@julsie, Not a bad idea actually. My creativity has been stagnating recently, and life has gotten in the way, so I'm planning on donating all my scraps to a local school. That's what most of my yarn supply was too: lots of little baby scraps that texture wise didn't quite match up. But hopefully this teacher will be able to make some great use out of it.
@geoelvin, I have enthusiastically Liked your page! I'm so glad there is someone out there tracking these things. I've had concern about it recently; one look in your typical chain craft supply store and pretty much all one can see is plastic! Nothing is real anymore. It's quite sad I think.
I had actually purchased three garbage bags full of acrylic from my local thrift store. I ended up making large quantities of winter gear (mittens, scarves, hats, etc) and slippers for local charities. I feel better about it for the following reasons: I purchased it all secondhand. It went to a good cause.
Very interesting post Sarah. Made me think and got to to search “how to dispose of acrylic”. Here is what I found about acrylic vs even other plastics.
Even if you burn (or melt) the acrylic at extreme high temperature it will break down into a non-decomposing bead. The ultra mini micro-bead. There are other types of synthetic yarns that seems, to be burnable to a char. You get Acrylic, you got it for good. Prevent micro breakdown and keeping it out of the landfill as long as possible. Acrylic will prevent other products from decomposing as well, and it seems there is no bacteria that will touch it, according to the reads I found in search.
In case of a flood or otherwise, maybe when we discover we have a product like acrylic, perhaps storing it as safely as possible, so as not to loose it to the environment and use it as a filler for protecting something else, is all we can do? We buy it, it is now ours to be responsible for, maybe?
But no guilt or blame to the unsuspecting consumer. Not your good hearts fault. And you have written a good post, thank you Sarah.
The Military uses acrylic sand bags since the bags are the most durable to use for flood control, and are fire retardant more than anything else, to save lives and communities.
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