The worldwide socks market earned around USD 44.61 billion in 2019 and was estimated to generate USD 47.22 billion in 2020. A Global Edge report, released in 2019, stated that around 21,239.05 million pairs of socks were manufactured and sold in 2019, with China and the US being the largest revenue generators.
These figures are important because a simple yet essential part of our clothing wreaks havoc on the environment. Gone are the days when socks were smelly and used to stink. Technology has eased human lives in multiple ways, including the introduction of odour-free socks.
These new kinds of socks are prevalent in the market and are highly popular among all. They can be worn for days, and they do not emit any foul smell and keep your feet fresh. All of us have these socks, but are we aware of their environmental impact?
Earlier, too, socks were made of cotton or wool, and though the process was still polluting, it was not that harmful. Nowadays, your conventional socks have transformed into unsustainable clothing that keeps us warm and dry but causes ecological imbalance and ecosystem destruction.
In this article, let us look into the detrimental impact of socks on our environment and the need to switch to socks brands that are truly sustainable.
Silver has healing properties and has been used since ancient times, but its nanoparticle form has come out recently. Nanoparticles are imbued in clothes to make them wrinkle-free and wash out stains easily, but research is needed to study the broad impact of nanoparticles.
Silver nanoparticles are woven into socks and other sportswear to prevent the sweat smell. These nanoparticles are highly harmful as they kill essential bacteria and microbes. It majorly impacts our water bodies and coastlines.
This has been confirmed by recent research conducted by the University of Essex, whose researchers expressed concern over water pollution caused due to socks production.
The scientists concluded that the whole process is polluting. Right from the production stage to their sale, and when they are discarded, socks choke the aquatic ecosystem. Apart from enormous amounts of water used in socks production, the remaining water containing these harmful nanoparticles pollutes the waterways, oceans and rivers.
Their impact is more serious and complex than we can possibly imagine. They impact our oceans that are the earth’s primary source of oxygen. These nanoparticles can choke and suffocate our oceans and the marine ecosystem that has the essential function of trapping carbon dioxide emissions. The coastal regions have micro-algae that takes care of the carbon and oxygen reprocessing, but the nanoparticles kill these algae and other vital bacteria.
Their journey does not end here; however, they very conveniently enter the food chain. This is where they begin to impact human health. These nanoparticles are so small, 1 to 100 nanometers, and they stick to other clothes or food packaging or are consumed by sea creatures that are ultimately eaten by man.
Ionic silver not only targets odour-causing bacteria but also negatively impacts and alters the biological and chemical processes that are vital in marine life. Once sufficient amounts of silver get trapped in the gills of fish, it can even kill them.
Also, once these socks are discarded, they end up in landfills causing land degradation. These are non-biodegradable, and so nothing can be done with them as they lay in heaps. They can be burnt, but the amount of pollution it would create is unthinkable. Most of us possess not one or two but seven to ten pairs of socks, so we shouldn’t buy too many socks unnecessarily.
Need for research and consumer awareness
There is a need for detailed examination of the environmental impact and health impact of these nanoparticles. Awareness should be created regarding the role of nanotechnology in consumer products. It is not only socks, but these substances are found in cosmetics too.
Most people are not aware of what nanoparticles are. They go to the market and buy goods that they like without knowing the material used. Hence, if the consumers do not know the detrimental environmental impact of these nanoparticles, they cannot make a wise decision.
The manufacturers should put clear and well-explanatory labels on socks and other clothes so that buyers are well-informed.
These nanoparticles are harmful, but there is no stringent legislation stopping the release of these toxic chemicals into our oceans. While the stakeholders should be held responsible, the global citizens should also understand the gravity of the issue and stick to conventional smelly socks instead of buying those infused with environmentally degrading technology.
Given the negative environmental impact of these nanoparticle-infused socks, there is an urgent need to buy from sustainable brands that sell durable, eco-friendly, and good-quality socks.
What are eco-friendly socks?
Eco-friendly socks are made from recyclable or environment-friendly material and with fair labour practices.
Conventional manufacturers use harmful chemicals, use enormous amounts of water and GMO’s to make traditional cotton or woollen socks. These products are a cause of animal cruelty, soil erosion, water and air pollution and habitat destruction, including large scale deforestation.
On the other hand, there is a range of materials that are used for making breathable, comfortable, durable and most importantly, sustainable socks that are a better option than their nanoparticle counterparts. Not only are they gentle on the environment, but they are also recyclable and can be worn for longer times.
Few sustainable socks brands
Some brands utilize bamboo, while some use recyclable cotton and wool. Some famous sustainable socks brands include pact, which manufactures sustainable knee-high socks, no-see-ums, ankle socks, and eco-friendly men’s crew socks.
This brand only uses GOTS certified organic cotton, which is also Fair Trade Certified. According to the brand, every pair of socks saves 19.4 gallons of water that would be utilized in growing conventional cotton. They try to make the production process as sustainable as possible by decreasing energy consumption and saving water. They employ conservative cutting ways, so that much scrap fabric is not produced.
Another truly sustainable socks brand is Outerknown that made ‘sustainability its marketing slogan. This brand uses 90% organic, recycled, and regenerated fibres.
These socks are becoming popular since they are comfortable, high-quality, and also durable. Their socks include 51% recycled polyester, 46% upcycled cotton, and just 3% nylon and spandex.
The use of upcycled cotton means that 50 gallons of water are saved per pair. This translates to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and also less waste generation. Their socks are also Bluesign certified, which means that their manufacturing is free from toxic chemicals.
A famous sustainable socks brand called Boody utilizes bamboo fibre viscose to make socks and other clothing such as swim trunks. Their bamboo is organically grown in China and is processed in a closed-loop system that uses non-toxic solvents.
The bamboo is certified by Ecocert, OEKO-TEX, FSC, ISO 9001, and is PETA-approved vegan. However, their socks do include around 20% synthetic material such as nylon and elastane.
Most sustainable brands also go for SGS testing to measure the durability and quality of the socks and other apparel. Also, it is used to see that there are no azo dyes, heavy metals, and formaldehyde.
Such brands opt for eco-friendly packaging, too, instead of using plastic. For instance, Boody’s sends its socks in recyclable paper boxes printed with flower and vegetable-derived natural ink.
To Sum Up
Socks cause nanoparticle contamination and destroy our marine ecosystems if they are not sustainably produced. It is vital that we understand the pros and cons before opting to buy even a simple pair of socks. We should always do our bit of research before we purchase products. As responsible and educated citizens, it is important that we think about our planet’s health.