The article will deliberate the biodegradability of cellulose acetate while also covering
- Is it natural?
- Is it compostable?
- How to compost?
- Is it sustainable?
- What are the disposal options?
- How to reuse?
- How to recycle?
Is cellulose acetate biodegradable?
Cellulose acetate is a semi-synthetic fibre that is made when cellulose is mixed with chemicals such as acetic acid. It is regarded as biodegradable but the composting aspect of it is dubious.
Cellulose acetate is made from wood pulp with reactions with chemical agents that include acetic acid and acetic anhydride.
Developing a stance on the sustainability of cellulose acetate fabric is a bit equivocal as there are factors on each side. Some aspects advocate in favour of cellulose acetate being eco-friendly and sustainable while others do exactly the opposite.
Is cellulose acetate naturally occurring?
The source of cellulose acetate will decide the fate of its environmental parameters which include biodegradation, composting, sustainability, and green disposal methods.
Therefore, let us probe into the sources that get associated with cellulose acetate. Cellulose acetate is made from wood pulp with reactions with chemical agents that include acetic acid and acetic anhydride.
Therefore, one would not be reluctant in calling cellulose acetate both naturally occurring and one step closer to green environmental parameters such as biodegradation and composting.
As it turns out, cellulose acetate is mainly made from two major types of fabric fibres. One is the natural fabric fibre and the other is the synthetic fabric fibre.
Natural fabric fibres are those that are extracted from nature. Examples will include cotton, silk et cetera.
Whereas, synthetic fibres are those that can be termed man-made and their examples will be rayon, viscose et cetera. It must be mentioned that there is a blatant use of chemicals in the latter case which makes synthetic fibres the least proximal to sustainability.
Is cellulose acetate sustainable?
Developing a stance on the sustainability of cellulose acetate fabric is a bit equivocal as there are factors on each side. Some aspects advocate in favour of cellulose acetate being eco-friendly and sustainable while others do exactly the opposite. We will explore all those factors and develop a stance at the end.
What makes cellulose acetate sustainable?
There are factors and aspects that herald the eco-friendliness and sustainability of cellulose acetate fabric. The aspects include
- Cellulose acetate fabric may be made from waste material (recycled) which makes the fabric win the title of resource conservative
- Cellulose acetate fabric features the use of wood pulp which is naturally occurring. Therefore, there is no reluctance in saying that cellulose acetate fabric is made from natural materials
- Cellulose acetate fabric is biodegradable which means that it will not contribute to waste problems and will degrade readily
- Cellulose acetate fabric can also be composted. This means that the waste generated from cellulose acetate can be used as a natural fertiliser which can replace synthetic fertilisers and gain benefits such as better yield, increased growth, and better water retention profiles
- Cellulose acetate fabric can also be recycled and therefore, it makes the fabric one step closer to being eco-friendly
What makes cellulose acetate unsustainable? (5 aspects)
However, as stated and prognosticated, it is not the entire picture. While there are factors that advocate the sustainability of cellulose acetate fabric, there are factors that do the opposite. Those include
- Cellulose acetate fabric depends on cotton which is regarded as a thirsty crop. This means a lot of water is consumed in the growth of cotton and therefore, cellulose acetate too.
- The production of cellulose acetate is incomplete without chemicals and agents such as acetic acid and acetic anhydride. This takes a toll on the environment.
- The production of cellulose acetate raises human rights violation concerns. For example, China is one of the biggest producers of cellulose acetate. In China, workers are given very few rights and there are serious medical repercussions of working such as respiratory issues
- It is linked to the problems of phthalates and microplastics. It may also cause water pollution.
- There are greener alternatives of cellulose acetate present that are linked with decreased concerns and pollution. With that in mind, the use and consumption of cellulose acetate seem illogical.
What are the green disposal practices linked with cellulose acetate?
As stated, the question that still remains is what to do with the small pieces of cellulose acetate that we can call leftover material because discarding them will be a good waste of resources.
Therefore, let us explore some options that can be relied upon when it comes to the proper utilisation of cellulose acetate. The options include
- Recycling centres
When it comes to fibres, the rule of thumb is that these fibres can be composted. However, cellulose acetate here is an exception.
It may be derived from nature but it does not take away the fact that it needs various chemicals such as acetic acid and that is why it is also termed an alternative to silk.
For these reasons, cellulose acetate is termed semi-synthetic. It may also include the use of various plasticizers and for these reasons, it will not be an excellent option to put the cellulose acetate in the compost pile.
When it comes to composting, there are certain prerequisites such as the material should be organic and eco-friendly. However, the case of cellulose acetate is home to many contradictions and equivocalities and therefore, it is best not to take any risk as it may lead to more bad than good.
However, some studies indicate the opposite of it. That will be the case when the use of plasticisers is avoided. The composting can be done in steps such as
- Find a suitable location in your home that is distant from your indoors but decently accessible
- You can compost either openly (compost piles) or in a compost bin. Both are fine.
- To initiate the process, make a heap made from compostable material (including natural cellophane)
- Make sure to place the heap in a cool and dry place. Be sure to continuously and regularly mix it.
- Make sure that there is a decent ratio of brown and green matter. The brown matter will be the source of carbon whereas the green matter will be the source of nitrogen. Many suggest making the ratio 4:1.
- Wait and let external conditions and microbes do the work
You can also deliver the used or unused pieces of cellulose acetate to the recycling centres. What may appear to you of no use may be highly beneficial to these centres because recycling centres can couple old cloth pieces with other leftover materials to make new cellulose acetate and clothes.
Therefore, to better utilise the used or unused cloth pieces, you need to locate nearby recycling centres and ask if they will accept cellulose acetate. In most cases, there will be a yes.
To utilise cellulose acetate, you do not necessarily need to steer to the composting or recycling centres. You can utilise the used or unused pieces of cellulose acetate from the comfort of your home too. All you need to have is a reuse mindset and an innovative approach.
If you have pieces of cellulose acetate, there are several uses that can be taken from them such as using the cellulose acetate as dusting material, to clean oil spills et cetera.
You can also use spare pieces of cloth to give a fashionable look to your attires or to spare pieces of cellulose acetate for various arts and crafts endeavours.
It is concluded that cellulose acetate is a semi-synthetic fibre that is made when cellulose is mixed with chemicals such as acetic acid. It is regarded as biodegradable but not readily compostable.
The article also discussed ways and actions to discard and utilise cellulose acetate were assessed.
Also, various points that made cellulose acetate sustainable and unsustainable were also shed light upon.
- Lebby, Sharmoon. (August 6, 2021). The Environmental Pros and Cons of Acetate. Retrieved from: https://www.treehugger.com/the-pros-and-cons-of-acetate-5176132
- Puls, J., Wilson, S. A., & Hölter, D. (2011). Degradation of cellulose acetate-based materials: a review. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 19, 152-165.