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Compostable Clothing

Compostable Clothing

This tip is for the die hard composters, but it contains some facts that we all need to think about

The items that we wear on our bodies impact our planet every bit as much as what we eat or what we use to store our our stuff in. Most people do not think about recycling or composting their clothing, but any natural fabric (cotton, linen, silk, wool, hemp, kapok, sisal, coconut fibers, etc) is biodegradable. 

Synthetic fibers are generally oil based (orlon, nylon, polyester, acrylic, vinyl, spandex, zylon, kevlar, etc.) and will not break down. Neither will  other things made from synthetic fibres: rope, bags, upholstery, curtains, stuffed animals, etc.

Some buttons are biodegradable, but most are plastic and will not break down. Some buttons are made of wood, bone, seashells or animal horn. These are all biodegradable although some may take a while to decompose completely. Glass buttons are recyclable and can also be buried without hurting anything.

One fairly new development in button materials is called “vegetable ivory.” This is hard material made from the seeds of various tropical palms and this will decompose. Vegetable ivory resembles ivory made from elephant tusks, though it is obtained without harming any elephants.  Vegetable ivory (also useful for piano keys, billiard balls, bagpipes, jewelry, figurines, and many other items) carries with it an indirect benefit in providing income for the people who harvest it from the tropical forests, removing much of the incentive to fell the forests.

Natural leather is certainly biodegradable, though, again, it may take a while.  As with anything that decomposes slowly, you might want to consider burying it in a place that will not be disturbed for a while, such as under a shrub, rather than in a garden that is turned over every season. There is quite a bit of imitation leather around, some of it difficult to tell from the real thing. Most of the time real leather will be advertised as such, so if it does not say it is real leather, it probably is not. Shoes very often have rubber or plastic soles attached to a leather upper portion.

A similar situation exists with rubber. Natural latex is an extract from a tropical tree, and is perfectly biodegradable. Gloves, toy balloons, and some other items made from natural latex will decompose.

Some clothing is colored with natural dyes, mostly extracts from various plants. Some commercial dyes are synthetic and less eco-friendly. Similarly, older formulas for shoe polish used natural wax, while more recent developments involve harmful chemicals.

Eco-friendly clothing can be just as stylish as any other clothing, particularly as more and more fashion designers are eco focused. A man in a tweed (wool) suit, a cotton shirt, a silk tie, and natural leather shoes can be dressed in 100% eco-friendly clothing yet easily fit right in at any corporate board meeting. All it takes is a little planning, a little label-reading, and a concern for the legacy each of us leaves behind for the next generation.

Image: Shutterstock

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