Did You Know? Non-Biodegradable Clothes Take 20 to 200 Years to Biodegrade

Non-biodegradable clothes are manufactured synthetic textiles including polyester, spandex, nylon, and rayon[*].  It may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade these textiles.

Biodegradable Textiles:

  • Cotton: Cotton is one of the most biodegradable fabrics you can have, especially if it is 100% cotton. In a compost, cotton may biodegrade within as little as a week but usually takes about 5 months.
  • Linen: This very fine material can decompose in as little as two weeks if it is all natural.  It is recommended that you cut fabric into small pieces to allow it to decompose better and faster.
  • Wool: Wool (including our cruelty-free alpaca wool) clothing will decompose in about one year but can take as long as five depending on the blend.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo clothing is becoming more and more popular and is similar to wool in that it takes one year and sometimes longer to biodegrade.
  • Hemp: Since hemp is derived from plants and is not processed excessively, it is highly biodegradable, breaking down in a short period of time.  Hemp Textiles and Environmental Game Changer.
  • Silk: This textile is created from the cocoons of silk worms and is also very biodegradable.
  • Rayon: Rayon, modal and lyocell are produced from renewable cellulosic plants such as beech trees, pine trees, and bamboo. All three fibers are biodegradable.  Specifically, Lenzing Viscose® and Lenzing Modal® are produced from sustainably harvested beech trees and Tencel® from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees.
  • Other biodegradable fashion materials: Textiles such as jute, leaf fibers, and abaca fiber, as well as cork, seeds, shells, nuts, and wood are all compostable.

[*] There are many manufacturers of rayon. Rayon was the first manufactured (regenerated) fiber, dating back to about 1855. The first patent for “artificial silk” was registered in 1894, the first U.S. commercial production occurred in 1910 and the term rayon was officially adopted in 1924.  Even with the advancements that have been made over time, most rayon manufacturing processes in use today are not considered environmentally friendly. In fact, they use a range of polluting chemicals and heavy metals.

[Related article: What is circular fashion? NO EXIT, NO WAY OUT: Close the LOOP on fashion]

Source: Natural Life Magazine

Read more on sustainable fashion in the sustainable EDGE category.

Feature Photo: Landfill near Jakarta, Indonesia, AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana | Quartz

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor