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Is Organic Cotton Biodegradable?

Within the decade, we are expected to be discarding more than 134 million tonnes of textiles annually on a global scale. And biodegradability is one of the most sustainable ways, in which we can tackle waste of that volume. Ahead, we explore how fabrics biodegrade and figure out if organic cotton can make the cut.

Key Takeaways: How Do Textiles Biodegrade?

Post-consumer use, biodegradable materials will break down into simpler particles with a little help from microorganisms, light, air or water. However, biodegradation can only be considered sustainable if it occurs within a relatively short period of time without leaving any toxins behind. Given the right environmental conditions, textiles are capable of degrading in a landfill; but when materials are Cradle to Cradle™ certified, they can even be composted for a quicker turnaround.  

Can All Our Clothes Biodegrade?

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

On the contrary, animal and plant-based fabrics can biodegrade into simpler particles fairly easily as long as they aren’t blended with synthetics. If synthetic and natural fibres are blended together — like cotton and elastane — decomposition will be hindered. But the process of biodegradation isn’t as cut and dried.

Clothes are made of several other components such as zippers, facings (like adhesive fusing), threads and buttons that break down at varying speeds, in particular conditions and with different effects. Which is why it is important to consider all factors at the outset, even minute details like garment trims before tossing out your garment.

Is Organic Cotton Clothing Biodegradable?

Cotton is plant-based and can therefore be considered a biodegradable material. In the right compost, the material could take anywhere between a week to five months to biodegrade. However, it should be noted that from an ecological perspective, organic cotton can biodegrade in a manner that is a lot cleaner than conventional cotton.  

Producing 1 kilogram worth of conventional cotton garments can use up to 3 kilograms of chemicals. Moreover, cotton does not absorb dyes well and has to be treated heavily with chemicals in the dyeing process. In comparison, organically grown cotton is far more superior than conventional cotton since it doesn’t rely on toxic chemicals to grow. Growing organic cotton doesn’t damage the soil, has less of an impact on the air, and uses 88% less water and 62% less energy. So, when organic cotton ultimately biodegrades, it won’t damage the soil or leave behind harmful toxins. 

At ZAVI, material impact and its after-life are of utmost importance to us. Which is why we took it a step further and ensured that the organic cotton we source is both 100% Global Organic Textiles Standard certified and meets the Organic Content Standard. These certifications not only assure you of making 100% organic cotton purchase but also ensure that our fabric has met stringent environmental requirements that include chemical use.

Biodegradable and stylish, peruse through our certified lineup of organic cotton clothing for women and organic cotton clothing for men.

Published by: Vibhuti Vazirani/ 2021-03-12

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