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Is Hemp Biodegradable?

‘Biodegradable’ is a commonly used term when it comes to material sustainability, but rarely is it well understood. Decomposition occurs everywhere. But post-consumer waste is varied — some are made of easily degradable materials while others will last for thousands of years. Ahead, we explore what biodegradability truly means and find out if industrial hemp fibre can make the cut.

Key Takeaways:
What is biodegradation?

Designing clothes with a potential to biodegrade at the end of their lives is an environmentally proactive response to the rising level of material waste overflowing in landfills. The process of biodegradation involves a fibre or garment being broken down into simpler substances. This occurs with a little help from light, air or water and microorganisms to find its way back to the earth. Ideally, this process must occur over a relatively short period of time without leaving any toxins behind

Can all our clothes biodegrade?

Unfortunately, not all fibres can biodegrade. Synthetic or petroleum-based fibres like polyester, nylon, acrylic or spandex come from a carbon-based chemical source and are therefore considered to be non-biodegradable. These fibres persist in the environment for thousands of years because microorganisms lack the enzymes necessary to break the fibre down. 

However, animal and plant-based fabrics degrade into simple particles pretty easily but not if they are made from fibre-blends. If synthetic and natural fibres are blended together — like wool and acrylic — decomposition will be hindered. It should also be noted that a garment also consists of components like zippers, facings (like adhesive fusing), threads and buttons that break down at varying speeds. Which is why it is important to consider all factors at the outset, even minute details like garment trims. 

Is hemp clothing biodegradable?

Not only is the hemp plant environmentally-friendly but it is also completely biodegradable. Apart from its unique ability to absorb carbon dioxide, hemp growing doesn’t even require harmful pesticides or herbicides.  

In fact, due to hemp fibre’s ability to biodegrade, a lot of innovators are banking on this opportunity to grow hemp for a variety of other biodegradable by-products. Hemp alternatives like; hemp based plastics (or bioplastics), construction and building material, fabrics, wood, biofuel, paper and even car components. This versatile plant is heralded as one of the most regenerative agricultural crops around as it’s deep-reaching roots end up preserving the soil nutrients.

Published by: Jharna pariani/ 2021-01-15

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