Jute is a natural fibre obtained as an extract from the bark of the jute plant that grows like any other organic crop. This fibrous plant in earlier days was also used by the inhabitants as a delicacy that went along with their staple diet. Jute was earlier called by its Bengali name 'Pat' (Patta in Sanskrit).
However, the advent of jute as a commercial commodity dates back to the end of the 18th century. Initially, the jute fibre was made into ropes that were extensively used in the wind and hand driven sea vessels and ships. Later, jute was learnt to have been spun and woven for manufacture of carpets.
By 1838 newer technologies emerged and jute fibre was spun into better yarn and woven to make jute-cloth. Sacking bags and jute hand-bags were the initial developments and with that jute products started to enter the daily lives of people. Applications in carpet making and packaging has also been dominated by jute ever since jute started to be woven into fabric form.
Since the middle of the last century some other properties of jute fibre started to emerge. It appeared then, that jute fibre and its subsequent processing might find application in new areas of use and also newer products for consumers. Assimilation of such thoughts was under way perhaps sometime in the eighties. Thereafter, the Indian Government assisted by the United Nations Development Programme mooted action on research finding and took up new research initiation with this fibre and its end use applicability. As a result of this initiation more and more application areas of jute started to come to light.This further resulted in finding possibilities for end use products made of jute and jute blends.
Jute product is the best alternative to non-bio degradable plastic bags, which has become a menace to many countries. Plastics have raised environmental hazards, choking of drains, blocking natural water streams and many more dangers. Jute bags and paper bags are thus gaining popularity for a good cause. The alternative may not come as cheap as its plastic counter part, but the price paid will still be cheap for the cost of saving to the environment. But unless the governments or the municipalities take this as a mission, promotion of jute as a better alternative to plastics will not take place.
Jute products have a good market in both India and in foreign countries like USA, U.K., Germany, Australia, Middle-east. The products generally in demand in these countries are jute shopping bags, wall hangings and floor coverings. While new markets are under exploration through consumer awareness and product promotion it will not be surprising to find this natural fibre product become a much of the material for regular use by consumers all over the world.
The fibre finds its use in the producing as well as in consuming countries in the agricultural, industrial, commercial and domestic fields. Sacking and Hessians (Burlap) constitute the bulk of the manufactured products. Sacking is commonly used as packaging material for various agricultural commodities viz., rice, wheat, vegetables, corn, coffee beans etc. Sacking and Hessian Cloth are also used as packing materials in the cement and fertilizer manufacturing industries (New J.H. 1993). Fine Hessian is used as carpet backing and often made into big bags for packaging other fibres viz. cotton and wool.
Jute and Allied Fibres (JAF) are produced in many countries. India, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Myanmar & Nepal are the major producing countries. Together they produce about 95% of the global production of JAF. India and Bangladesh produce mostly jute, China produces mostly kenaf while Thailand produces kenaf and roselle.
In Nepal, Jute is grown in about 11000 ha in Tarai belt of Eastern part of Nepal. In Thailand JAF are cultivated in about 20,000 ha. In India Jute and Kenaf are grown in about 1,000,000 hectares. Most of the production comes from the States of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh & Tripura.
Bangladesh grows mainly jute, only about 10% kenaf and roselle in 500,000 hectares. China grows mainly kenaf and only about 10% jute in about 56,000 hectares. In Indonesia JAF are grown in 10,000-20,000 hectares.
In general, the practice of retting jute plants in the jute growing regions is to immerse the jute bundles in clear slow flowing water, in canals, rivulets, tanks, ponds or ditches. The minimum ratio of plant material to water in stagnant water should be 1:20.
The important conditions for good retting are:
The water should be non-saline and clear. The volume of water should be enough to allow jute bundles to float. Bundles, when immersed, should not touch the bottom. The same retting tank or ditch should not be used when water becomes dirtier. Retting has been used for a long time in case of extraction of fibres from jute and allied vegetable fibre plants. Since the fibres are contained in the bark or the outer skins of stems, either stems or the outer skins called ribbons are retted for extracting the fibres. If the stems are retted, it is called stem retting. If ribbons are retted it is called ribbon retting. Retting is an important step in the production of good quality fibre. The existing practices of retting in the major producing countries are described below.
The quality of jute fibre is judged by its suitability for the production of various types of yarn and its behaviour in the manufacturing process. The fibre which spins into the finest yarn is considered to be of very good quality.
Jute fibre is marketed in bundles of fibre hanks. A fibre hank is composed of about 10-15 fibre reeds obtained from 10-15 plants. Each fibre reed is composed of thousands of fibre strands made of ultimate fibres with lignin and pectic substances, the cementing materials. Commercially fibre quality is assessed by taking a hank out of a lot, spreading the individual reeds on the ground and then assessing the different characteristics by `look & touch' method.
Jute is an annually renewable energy source with a high biomass production per unit land area. It is biodegradable and its products can be easily disposed without causing environmental hazards. The roots of jute plants play a vital role in increasing the fertility of the soil. By rotating with other crops like rice and potatoes, jute acts as a barrier to pest and diseases for others crops and provides also a substantial amount of nutrients to other crops in the form of organic matter and micronutrients. Jute and kenaf have ecological adaptability, and can be grown on a range of soil types. They have a good tolerance to salinity, water stress and water logging. Agronomically, jute and kenaf have advantages as regards their resistance to climatic extremes, pests and diseases.
Jute plants have high carbon dioxide (CO2) assimilation rate and it clean the air by consuming large quantities of CO2, which is the main cause of the greenhouse effect. Theoretically, one hectare of jute plants can consume about 15 tons of CO2 from atmosphere and release about 11 tons of oxygen in the 100 days of the jute-growing season. Studies also show that the CO2 assimilation rate of jute is several times higher than that of trees.
Jute is a fast-growing seasonal crop. It reaches a height of 1.5 to 4.5 meters in a period of 4 to 5 months. The average dry stem production of jute ranges from 20-40 ton per hectare, annually. This contrasts with the production of the fastest growing wood plant which needs at least 10 to 14 years from plantation to harvest, and produces only 8 to 12 ton per hectare annually. Because the biological efficiency of jute is much higher than that of wood plants, the use of jute instead of wood to make paper pulp will lower substantially the cost of production of pulp and paper and save forest resources.
The defoliated jute leaves have fertilizer value and enriches the soil nutrients. Jute leaves are used as vegetables and have nutritional as well medicinal values jute sticks are used for fuel and shelter in jute growing rural areas. This has helped reduce the use of wood in these applications. For Instance, the total production of jute & kenaf fibre in the world is 3 million tons. This means that on an average 6 million tons of jute sticks are available to the rural people for use as firewood etc.
The production flow of jute agriculture involves: sowing, weeding/thinning, harvesting, defoliation, retting, fibre extraction, washing and drying. But only a small percentage of the farmers use seed treatment, fertilizers and herbicides/pesticides, which makes the processes before harvesting environmentally sound. Processes of jute retting, fibre extraction and washing have drawn some concerns regarding solid residue and gaseous emissions that arise from such processes. Complaints about the unpleasant smell during retting are quite common. However, the pollution of water by retting is transitory in nature, because in a warm climate the polluted water returns to its normal condition after 30-45 days. The temporary gaseous emissions and unpleasant smell do not involve any non-reversible hazard as compared to some other industries. The retting process is being improved using biotechnology.
Jute products manufacturing process involve several stages such as batching, softening with batching oil, carding, drawing, spinning, weaving and finishing. The use of mineral batching oils is being replaced with for specific use like packaging of Cocoas and Coffee.
The jute plant is an annual plant that thrives best in moist soil in a hot, humid climate. Seeds are hand-sown, and plants mature in three months, often averaging a height of 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters). Their light green leaves are arrow-shaped, and small yellow flowers bloom singly or in clusters. Jute is classified scientifically in the genus Corchorus.
The plants are harvested when the blossoms first begin to shed. The cut stalks are sorted according to length and gathered into bundles. They are then placed in shallow pools of stagnant water where they are allowed to ret, or ferment. When they have become soft enough, the fibers are separated from the stalks and then hung on lines to dry. After drying, the fibers are sorted, graded, and baled for export.
Burlap, low-grade twine, and many other products are made from jute. Because it is low-priced and adaptable, jute is second only to cotton in world consumption of natural fibers. India, China, and Bangladesh are the leading producers.
In the environment conscious world today, the Golden Fibre has proved to be immensely popular. It is biodegradable and therefore environment friendly; so the products merge with the soil after sustained use. In turn, it enriches the soil with organic substance and helps to grow better crops. On combustion, its fumes are non- toxic and produce no residue. JRP (Jute Reinforced Plastic) is widely used to pack tea and fruits especially for its excellent ‘breathing qualities’. It effectively packs garments, cement, fertilizers and other products as well. Geo-jute has been developed to control erosion on mountain slopes, canal banks and railway sidings. It also helps vegetation to grow - naturally. Jute has also proved to be the ideal replacement of wood.
The Indian jute sector, comprising the organized jute industry and a large number of decentralized/cottage units, has now reached the stage of producing materials, which are not only durable, but also attractive from the esthetic sense. Numerous end-uses have been found for the golden fibre to meet the requirements of the connoisseurs.
The array of products now being manufactured from jute are endless. From fine silk, finished fabrics, versatile furnishings to intricately designed oriental carpets - jute makes them all: Moulded furniture, Wall Hangings, Swing Chairs, Flower Pot Holders, Tea Coasters, Mats, Blankets, Slippers, Shopping Bags, Bead Curtains, Dolls, Soft Luggage, Briefcases, Skirts, Jackets, Lamp Shades, Floor Runners, Panels, Boards and a whole lot more. Inexpensive & Aesthetic. The products are ideal for homes, offices, and public places.