Is Ribbon Eco Friendly? (+3 Sustainable Alternatives)

Savanna Stanfield

Ribbon has been used for centuries for clothing, home decor, and even hair accessories.

Today ribbon is also commonly used to decorate and tie together gifts, often for a one-time use only to get thrown away with the gift wrap.

If you go to the crafting section of any store, you’ll see rows and rows of ribbon selections to choose from.

Since there are so many different types of ribbon and a lot of it only gets used once or twice, it raises questions as to whether or not ribbon is eco-friendly.

The answer is both yes and no. It all depends on what the ribbon is made of and how it’s made.

Please keep reading and we’ll try to answer any questions you may have about the eco-friendliness of ribbon.

How Is Ribbon Made?

Ribbon can be made from natural or synthetic fabrics, or a combination of both. 

Before the creation of plastic, ribbon was made out of natural materials like silk or cotton.

Today, there is still ribbon that is made from these materials.

But since the manufacturing of synthetic fabrics has become so commonplace, a lot of ribbon is also made from rayon, synthetic velvet, and nylon, among others.

Types of Ribbon Manufacturing 

Ribbon is manufactured in 3 ways: cut-edge, wire-edge, and woven-edge.

  1. Cut-Edge Ribbon

Cut-edge ribbon is the type of ribbon that is usually used for crafting and gift wrap. 

This type of ribbon can be printed with designs or decorated with glitter.

It is made from plastic and treated with stiffener to keep it from unraveling.

  1. Wire-Edge Ribbon

Wire-edge ribbon is cut from larger pieces of cloth and has edges that are wrapped around wire. The wire makes the ribbon easy to shape and helps it to retain that shape.

This type of ribbon is the kind that is usually used for making decorative wreaths and bows, especially around the holidays 

  1. Woven-Edge Ribbon

Woven-edge ribbon is narrow and has woven edges that keeps it from unraveling.

This type of ribbon is usually used in the textile industry for the purpose of adorning clothing and accessories like purses and jewelry. 

Types of Ribbon Textures

There are six main types of ribbon textures:

  • Grosgrain
  • Metallic
  • Natural
  • Organdy
  • Satin
  • Velvet

Each of these categories of ribbon is usually made from a certain fabric type.

  1. Grosgrain

Grosgrain ribbon is made of woven fibers that usually has a ribbed appearance. This type of ribbon is usually made from natural cotton, synthetic polyester, or a blend of those two fibers.

  1. Metallic

Metallic ribbon is typically made from Lurex, a type of synthetic metallic yarn that gives it a shiny appearance. 

It can also be made from other metallic yarns. But most metallic yarns are made of plastic and aluminum in order to make them shiny.

  1. Natural

This type of ribbon is made from natural materials including jute, linen, and cotton. Ribbon made from burlap and raffia can also be considered natural.

  1. Organdy

Organdy is a delicate and often sheer type of ribbon. It is usually made from very thin cotton cloth.

  1. Satin

Satin ribbon is just as it sounds; made from satin fabric.

However, the term satin doesn’t refer to a specific fabric material, but rather fabric with a specific weave and texture.

Satin fabric today can be made from both natural or synthetic materials.

Natural satin is usually made from cotton or silk, while synthetic satin is made from polyester 

  1. Velvet

Velvet ribbon is made from velvet fabric. But like satin, velvet refers to a specific fabric texture.

Velvet fabric can also be made from different materials, but most velvet today is synthetic.

Is Ribbon Eco Friendly?

Whether or no ribbon is eco-friendly depends on what it is made of.

Ribbon that is made from natural materials is more eco-friendly than ribbon made from synthetic materials.

In the types of ribbon mentioned above, natural ribbon and organdy ribbon are two eco-friendly types. They are made from cotton, raffia, linen, or other plant-based fibers.

Metallic ribbon is usually not eco-friendly because the metallic yarn used to make it is synthetic.

Grosgrain, satin, and velvet may or may not be eco-friendly depending on what material was used to make them.

Synthetic satin and synthetic velvet are not eco-friendly.

Ribbon made from polyester, nylon, or rayon is also not eco-friendly. Any type of synthetic material is plastic and manufactured from petroleum and other chemicals.

However, most ribbon is usually dyed in different colors.

When determining the eco-friendliness of ribbon, it’s important to look at the type of dye that was used for coloring it as well.

Dye can be organic or made from chemicals. Organic dye is eco-friendly, while chemical dye is not.

It’s possible that ribbon can be made from an eco-friendly material but colored using dye that isn’t eco-friendly.

Is Ribbon Sustainable?

Ribbon is sustainable if it is made from natural, plant-based fibers. Examples include ribbon made from cotton, linen, raffia, and burlap.

Plant-based materials are more sustainable than synthetic materials because new plants can be grown yearly and won’t run out under normal circumstances.

As an example, the jute fibers used in creating jute ribbon come from the bark of the jute plant. 

This plant takes about 120 days to grow and can be harvested annually. As long as no disease or other environmental factors affect the plants, jute can be replenished quickly and easily.

Synthetic materials are not sustainable at all because they are made from petroleum, which is made by refining crude oil.

Crude oil is a non-renewable resource. The over-drilling and collection of crude oil will eventually cause crude oil supplies to run out.

For more sustainable ribbon, look for ones that are made from natural fibers. The label on most ribbon should tell you what it is made from.

Is Ribbon Biodegradable?

Ribbon is biodegradable as long as it is made from natural fibers, dyed organically, and doesn’t have any type of wire in it.

If ribbon is dyed, stamped, or decorated in any way, it’s not a good idea to let it biodegrade unless you’re 100% sure that the materials used are organic and safe.

Ribbon that is dyed organically should say so on the packaging. Otherwise, you should assume that it is dyed with chemical dyes.

If ribbon is made from raffia, burlap, or jute, it should be safe to biodegrade because these types of ribbon are usually left undyed.

Also, if the ribbon has wire in it to give it structure and support, you shouldn’t allow it to biodegrade. Even if the fabric itself biodegrades, the wire itself will be left behind.

Ribbon that is made from synthetic materials like polyester, acetate, or nylon should never be left to biodegrade. 

Synthetic materials are essentially plastic. Plastic can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

If the ribbon is treated with stiffener or anything to keep it from unraveling, you shouldn’t let it biodegrade either.

Any type of chemical can cause harm to the environment if it does biodegrade.

If you aren’t absolutely sure what type of ribbon you have, play it safe and assume it isn’t biodegradable.

Is Ribbon Compostable?

Since composting and biodegradation are similar, you can follow the same guidelines that were mentioned above.

Natural, undyed ribbon like burlap, jute, raffia, and white cotton or linen ribbon make great composting materials as long as they don’t have wire in them.

Again, unless you’re 100% sure what type of ribbon you have, don’t compost it.

You could accidentally create harmful compost if ribbon is made, dyed, or treated with synthetic materials and chemicals.

Is Ribbon Organic?

Plant-based ribbons are organic as long as the plants were grown organically.

Organdy ribbon and any other type of ribbon made from cotton, linen, jute, or raffia are all plant-based.

The problem with plants is that they are susceptible to damage from insects or diseases, so fungicides and pesticides are sometimes used to ensure healthy growth.

But to be organic, plants have to be grown without the use of any type of chemicals, which can be a long and expensive process. 

It’s possible that some ribbon is made from organic plants, but it isn’t a good idea to assume that all plant-based ribbon is organic.

We should also note that any type of ribbon made from synthetic materials like polyester is not organic.

Is Ribbon Toxic?

Ribbon itself isn’t toxic and poses no health risks to humans, but whether or not the materials used to make ribbon are toxic just depends.

Synthetic ribbon is made from harmful chemicals that can be toxic to the environment if they are disposed of incorrectly.

Likewise, ribbon treated with chemicals can also be toxic to the environment.

Regardless of whether the ribbon is made from natural or synthetic materials, if it was dyed with chemical dye then the dye itself can be toxic.

Natural, un-dyed ribbon is non-toxic and therefore completely safe for both humans and the environment.

Is Ribbon Flammable?

The flammability of ribbon just depends on what it is made of. Certain fabric types are more flammable than others. 

Some synthetic materials aren’t as flammable, while some are slow to ignite. Even if synthetic fibers do catch on fire, they will more than likely melt instead of burn.

Natural fibers, on the other hand, catch on fire more easily and burn quickly due to the plant fibers.

Textile materials can be treated with chemicals to make them flame retardant and therefore lower their flammability.

However, this does lower the eco-friendliness of the material.

Can Ribbon Be Recycled?

Ribbon usually can’t be recycled because there are so many different kinds of ribbon.

Ribbon has different textures and can be made of a variety of materials.

Recycled materials have to be separated so that they can be broken down.

It can be hard to separate different types of ribbon without knowing what they are made of.

But instead of being recycled, ribbon can be reused. Ribbon used for gift wrap and crafting can be saved and used over and over again.

If ribbon is attached to clothing, the clothing can be reused as well by donating it to secondhand or consignment shops.

Other people can enjoy it after you know longer have use for it.

How To Dispose Of Ribbon Properly

You can’t recycle ribbon, and let’s say that you’ve reused a piece of ribbon so much that it is starting to fray, unravel, or tear.

How should you dispose of it properly?

Composting it is a good option if the ribbon is made from natural materials, un-dyed, and doesn’t contain wire.

But if you can’t compost it, you don’t really have another choice except to throw it away. But how can you do so safely?

Long strips of ribbon can cause problems for wildlife because animals can get tangled in them.

To dispose of ribbon safely, you should cut off loose threads, then cut long strips of ribbon into smaller pieces. 

Yes, the ribbon will still end up in a landfill, but at least if it’s in smaller pieces it won’t be as easy for an animal to get tangled up in it.

Is Ribbon Washable?

Some types of ribbon are washable and others aren’t. We mentioned earlier that ribbon is manufactured in one of three ways: cut-edge, wire-edge, and woven-edge.

Cut-edge and woven-edge ribbon can usually be washed because these are the types of ribbon used for crafting or clothing. They won’t tear up as long as they are washed properly.

But when washing items that have either of these types of ribbon on them, it’s best to wash the item inside a mesh laundry bag and use the gentle cycle unless the ribbon is attached securely and isn’t loose.

If the ribbon is loose, the agitation of the washing machine could cause the ribbon to unravel or become wrapped around one of the machine’s moving parts. That could damage both the item and the machine.

Wire-edge ribbon can’t be washed. Doing so could cause the ribbon to lose its structure.

Also, the agitation of the machine could loosen the wire and cause it to stick out of the ribbon.

3 Eco Friendly Alternatives To Ribbon

1. Raffia

Raffia is a great natural and eco-friendly alternative to most types of ribbon.

Raffia comes from a palm tree and is usually grown and harvested under a lot of regulations to ensure sustainability.

Raffia is a great option to use for decorating and wrapping gifts. It can be dyed or undyed, so there are tons of options.

2. Jute

Like raffia, jute is a great natural alternative to other ribbon types.

The great thing about jute is that it usually isn’t dyed. That means that it is biodegradable and compostable.

Jute is also very strong and durable, so it can be used for a lot of different purposes. That includes gift wrap and crafting.

3. Cotton Ribbon

If you need ribbon for making clothing, cotton ribbon is a good eco-friendly choice.

Organic cotton ribbon is the most eco-friendly, but you can find cotton ribbon in many different colors and styles.

Conclusion 

Today ribbon is made from so many different materials. But whether or not ribbon is eco-friendly ultimately depends on what it’s made of.

Remember that although it’s pretty, most metallic, satin, and velvet ribbon is not eco-friendly. Ribbon that is decorated or stamped usually isn’t either.

Ribbon made from natural materials like cotton and jute are more eco-friendly than ribbon made from synthetic polyester or nylon.

But with so many different ribbon choices out there, you’re sure to find plenty of eco-friendly and sustainable options to suit your needs.

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