Derived from Agave Sisalana plant, native to Mexico, sisal is second in tensile strength only to abaca. It has been traditionally used for ropes, carpets and mats and its high-absorbency makes it a good substitute for paper.
The resilient agave plant can be grown in hot, arid conditions, where other crops would usually suffer. It is highly efficient and can be produced with minimal pre and post seasonal losses, with an average yield of 1 tonne of dried fibre per hectare. The plant’s fibres rest upon the surface of its leaf and can be removed either mechanically or by hand. Another important feature of sisal is that 98% of the plant’s biomass still remains after fibre extraction; this can be harnessed for biogas, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals such as inulin.
Sisal farming initially caused environmental degradation, since the plants replaced forests, but sisal is still considered less harmful than many types of farming and does not require fertilizers or herbicides.
Sisal can also be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to asbestos and fiberglass for insulation.
This article is part of series “Biodegradable Textile Fabrics”: