Is 100% cotton fabric biodegradable? (7 properties) 

In this article, the biodegradability of 100% cotton fabric will be explored. Other covered topics will be: 

  • What is 100% cotton fabric?
  • What are textile fabrics?
  • What are the environmental effects of 100% cotton fabric?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Is 100% cotton fabric biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is 100% cotton fabric biodegradable?

Yes, 100% cotton fabric is biodegradable. biodegradability is the breakdown by the action of microbes and enzymes. Biodegradation comes from the two words ‘bio’ and ‘degradation’.

Biodegradation is important because it ensures that waste is not accumulated and gets back into the system. If that does not happen, there can be environmental problems and anomalies like pollution or global warming. 

Natural substances and products made from natural materials can be degraded by the action of microbes. 100% cotton, therefore, is regarded as biodegradable. 

Since it is pure, 100% cotton fabric may also be made into compost to improve soil fertility and achieve water conservation. 

What is 100% cotton fabric? (7 properties) 

Cotton fabric is regarded as the most commonly used fabric in today’s times. It is also recorded that cotton has been used for clothing for many hundred years. 

Today most apparel products are made from cotton which is largely because of the characteristics of cotton that deliver good quality at an even greater price. 

The use of cotton for apparel has been found in many ancient civilisations such as the Indus and the Egyptians. It is even claimed that back then, the use of cotton was only reserved for royalty and the privileged class. 

Cotton has been in use for many centuries. The properties of cotton such as natural, lightweight, absorbent, and heat repulsion led to the increased use of cotton as a fabric as early as 5000 BC. 

There are various types of cotton. Each type is of varied quality and pricing. That is why, everyone, from rich to poor can afford cotton these days. 

Cotton usually is white in colour. The white colour appears after a process called bleaching. Bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide are utilised to impart whiteness on cotton fabric.

Cotton may also be dyed in different colours. For this, both natural and synthetic dyes are used. However, the most common method is the usage of synthetic dyes to achieve the white colour of cotton fabric. Cotton fabric may have the following properties:

  • Diversity
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Absorbance
  • Softness
  • Durability
  • Breathability 
  • Tendency to be dyed well

Cotton can be classified into several categories. This is to cater to all the needs of cotton clothing. Cotton is worn by every person. From rags to riches. Therefore, there are several types of cotton found.

These are: 

  • Pima cotton 
  • Egyptian cotton
  • Upland cotton
  • Organic cotton 

Pima cotton is the most premium of all and is the most expensive as well. It is usually reserved for the privileged class. 

Whereas, upland cotton is regarded as the most common cotton which is worn by more than 90% of the people. 

Organic cotton coheres with the interests of environmentalists because it is made and produced in line with environmental concerns. 

Organic cotton is regarded as organic because it excludes the use of harmful chemicals and fertilisers which affect the planet very negatively. 

What are textile fabrics?

Clothes are made from textiles. There are more than 7 billion people in the world. Everyone needs textile products to cover his/her body and provide other utilities as well such as insulation, protection from cold, sweat absorption et cetera. 

Textiles is a very huge umbrella that factors in many examples and sub-examples. Certain properties are important and imperative for textiles. These are: 

  • Style characteristics 
  • Utility 
  • Durability 
  • Performance 

Textile products may be divided into some classes and hierarchies based on the way they are made, their usability, and their environmental impacts. 

Textile products may usually be natural and synthetic. Natural textile products are obtained from nature. Common sources are plants and animals. For example, cotton is a natural fabric fibre that is obtained from cotton plants. 

Since the source of natural textile products is nature, it is assumed that there will be fewer impacts on nature and health arising from natural textile products. 

On the other hand, we have synthetic textile products. These products are made in the labs at the expense of chemicals and synthetic procedures. 

Since petroleum-based products are used to make synthetic fibres, there are a lot of negative impacts of synthetic fabric fibres on life and the environment. Further deliberations will be provided in the next sections of the article.

Common examples of synthetic textile products will be viscose, acrylic fabric et cetera. 

You may wonder what is the need for synthetic textile products if there are detrimental impacts of those products on the environment. 

For this, you need to understand the environmental-economic tradeoff. The primary reason why people and manufacturers opt for synthetic fabric fibres is that these textile products deliver better utility at even better prices. 

This, however, is achieved at the expense of our environment because there are known impacts of textile products on life and the environment.

The deciding factor here is that natural textiles are usually biodegradable whereas, non-natural textiles are usually non-biodegradable. This is largely because the microbes are unable to break down the structure of synthetic textiles. 

What is the environmental impact of 100% cotton fabric?

As per the environmental impact of cotton, it is mostly assumed that cotton will have no impact on the environment. This assumption is far from the truth. 

That is because of a number of reasons. Firstly, cotton is sourced from plants and animals. If unsustainable amounts of textiles are made, there will be unjust pressure put on the life forms.

This pressure may also be met with the use of harmful chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides. 

Fertilisers and pesticides, may then, in turn, cause environmental degradation in the form of soil pollution and water pollution.

Life on land and life in water may also be severely affected by the use of agrochemicals and these effects may also reciprocate to humans as well. 

Further, the unsustained production of natural textiles may also stem from issues of land misuse, infertility, and an unbalanced proportion of resources. 

Another impact of natural textiles on the environment is that the production process involved in textile making may include the use of harmful chemicals. 

These chemicals may present threats to both the workers present there and the environment at large. Consider the example of artificial dyes. 

Dyeing is an important step of textile production. Most of the natural textiles are dyed and bleached to obtain the desired colours and make sure that no impurity remains. 

However, the dyeing process has a lot of negative impacts on the environment. The dyeing process usually involves the use of synthetic dyes which may leach into the soil and water bodies. 

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradability is defined as the microbial breakdown of waste into simpler substances so that the waste may become a part of nature again. 

You may wonder why this is important. The process of breakdown of waste into simpler substances is important because it reduces waste accumulation and assimilation. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be negative impacts of the waste on the environment and human life. 

Some factors are essential for the biodegradation process. These factors may include 

  • Microbes
  • Aeration 
  • Sunlight 
  • Temperature 
  • Pressure 
  • Other external conditions 

You may think of biodegradability as a natural dustbin because it leads to waste segregation. If there is no biodegradability, there will be negative effects reciprocated to life and the environment. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a general understanding that waste may be categorised into two classes. One is biodegradable waste and the other is a non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradable waste is the type of waste which may be degraded by the action of microbes. There is a general rule of thumb that products and substances made from natural sources like plants and animals are included in the list of biodegradable waste. 

Whereas, products and substances made from non-natural materials can not be broken down by the action of microbes and enzymes. These products are thus included in the category of non-biodegradable waste. 

Examples of biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Plant waste
  • Animal waste
  • Manure
  • Compost 
  • Natural fabric
  • Bioplastics 
  • Natural resins 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Synthetic polymers
  • Plastics such as PET, LDPE, HDPE, PVC et cetera
  • Synthetic fabric such as rayon or polyester
  • Synthetic chemicals like DDT or agrochemicals 
  • Nylon 
  • Dyneema

Is 100% cotton fabric biodegradable?

It can be stated that since pure cotton (100%) is absolutely obtained from plant sources, the microbes or enzymes will be able to degrade cotton effectively. 

Therefore, it can be confirmed that 100% cotton is indeed biodegradable. As per literature, 100% cotton fabric may take around five months to degrade. 

Since cotton fabric (100%) is purely organic, it can also be made into compost. Compost is a dead organic matter. 

Compost may be used as a natural fertiliser which may replace artificial fertiliser. This is essential because there are many known disadvantages of artificial fertilisers. 

The compost made from cotton fabric will be elemental in improving the organic content of the soil while also ensuring that the water retention capacity of the soil is augmented. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that biodegradability is the breakdown by the action of microbes and enzymes. Biodegradation comes from the two words ‘bio’ and ‘degradation’.

Biodegradation is important because it ensures that waste is not accumulated and gets back into the system. If that does not happen, there can be environmental problems and anomalies like pollution or global warming. 

Natural substances and products made from natural materials can be degraded by the action of microbes. 100% cotton, therefore, is regarded as biodegradable. 

Since it is pure, 100% cotton fabric may also be made into compost to improve soil fertility and achieve water conservation. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is 100% cotton fabric biodegradable?

What is meant by 100% cotton fabric?

100% cotton fabric implies the purity of the fabric because often, cotton may be used in impure forms or in combination with other fabrics to achieve utilitarian requirements. 

How long does it take for 100% cotton fabric to degrade?

100% cotton fabric may degrade in about 5 months’ time. However, it may vary based on external conditions and the purity of the fabric. 

References

  • Tokiwa, Y., & Calabia, B. P. (2007). Biodegradability and biodegradation of polyesters. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 15(4), 259-267.
  • Baffes, J. (2005). The “cotton problem”. The World Bank Research Observer, 20(1), 109-144.
  • Oosterhuis, D. M. (1990). Growth and development of a cotton plant. Nitrogen nutrition of cotton: Practical issues, 1-24.
  • Smith, C. W., & Cothren, J. T. (Eds.). (1999). Cotton: origin, history, technology, and production (Vol. 4). John Wiley & Sons.
  • Valeecha, Sonali. (May 29, 2021). How Long Will The Clothes You Threw Out Take To Decompose? Retrieved from: https://hercircle.in/engage/fashion/trends/how-long-will-the-clothes-you-threw-out-take-to-decompose-695.html

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