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Biodegradable Fabrics: Can We Really Compost Our Clothes?

When an object is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms by avoiding pollution altogether, they are considered to be biodegradable. Sustainable fashion brands use materials that are deemed biodegradable, but it's not as simple as tossing that t-shirt into the ground and expect nature to take its course. 

We are well aware of the fact that a ton of clothing is being discarded every year, an estimated 50 million to be specific. And most of it will not biodegrade in a landfill, especially synthetic materials like polyester or nylon that could potentially also leak chemicals into the earth which would further exacerbate the problem. This is where biodegradable materials come to the rescue. Fabrics like organic cotton, linen, hemp, lyocell, peace silk and bamboo are among the few that are completely biodegradable. So how does one help return these fabrics back to nature? 

Selectively compost 

Technically speaking, you can’t really chuck your sustainable outfit all by itself in the compost bin. Every aspect or at least 99% of the garment must be compostable for it to be considered bio-degradable — the fabric must be of organic nature, the dyes used must be low-impact and AZO-free, even the 

trims like the threads and buttons must be compostable. If any of these components are non-biodegradable, it is the responsibility of the brand to identify these for the consumer so that they can be removed before composting. 

Natural decay needs circulation 

There is no guarantee that a garment tossed by itself will disintegrate in a landfill easily as the atmosphere is inherently toxic and oxygen-starved. Tuck your biodegradable wears in an airy garden and don’t forget to shred it up so it breaks down easily in your compost but don’t just throw it directly in the bin where it will inevitably end up in a landfill. 

Encourage the process 

Composting is a science and your shredded clothes will need some fresh and wet items like vegetable peelings or garden cuttings to ensure they break down in a timely manner. Adding worms into mix can accelerate the process as they produce some of the best fertiliser on the planet and are super efficient at processing organic waste. And lastly, it is advisable not to overwhelm your compost heap with no more than 25% of old clothes. 

Make it your last resort 

Composting is always a good idea but when it comes to clothing items, it should be your last resort. 95% of used textiles can actually be recycled or repurposed, so whether your wears are sustainable or not — extending their shelf life for as long as possible is ideal. Even with composting, the rate of breakdown is very much determined by the environment. 

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2020-01-03

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