Is fur biodegradable? (9 uses of fur fabric)

This article shall answer the question of the biodegradability of fur.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • The applications of fur.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of fur.
  • The processing of fur.

Is fur biodegradable?

Yes, fur is a natural, organic polymer that is found in animals. It is easily broken down into small biomass and other small molecules such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane by microorganisms in a process called biodegradation.

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally assimilation. 

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

What is fur?

Fur is a thick growth of hair that covers the body surface of mammals. 

Fur is made up of two main layers; the outer guard hair and the thick inner layer called the underfur. 

The guard hair keeps water and snow from reaching the skin. This layer contains the most pigmentation and gloss used by animals for camouflage.

It is also adapted to repel water and block sunlight and therefore protect the inner layer. The underfur keeps the animal warm by preventing thermal loss. 

In mammals, fur plays different roles that include:

  • Protection from physical injuries.
  • Sensory proposes.
  • They protect the animal’s skin from water and snow.
  • Camouflaging from predators or prey.
  • Thermoregulation.
  • Sexual selection.
  • Communication.

Different animals contain different hairs that make up the fur. They include:

  • Definitive hairs: These hairs are usually shed off after reaching a certain length.
  • Vibrissae: These hairs entail the whiskers, they are sensory hairs.
  • Pelage: These are the guard hairs, underfur, and awn hair.
  • Spines: These kinds of guard hairs are used for defense. They are found mostly on porcupines. 
  • Bristles: These are usually long hairs that are used for visual signals, an example is the lion’s mane.
  • Velli: These hairs are usually called down fur. They insulate newborn mammals.
  • Wool: This is the long, soft, and often curly hair of animals such as sheep and chinchillas.

Commercially, animals that produce fur are called furbearers. The most common types of furbearers are:

  • Fox.
  • Rabbit.
  • Mink.
  • Beaver.
  • Ermine.
  • Otter.
  • Sable.
  • Seal.
  • Coyote.
  • Chinchilla.
  • Raccoon.
  • Possum.
  • Dwarf lemur.
  • Serval 
  • Ocelot.
  • Alpaca.
  • Quill.
  • Megabat 

What are the commercial applications of fur?

Fur is harvested from furbearers and processed to be used in industries. The uses of fur include:

  • It is used to make garments.
  • It is used to make felt which is used to make bowler hats, top hats, and high-end cowboy hats.
  • Fur was worn in ancient times to denote class.
  • Making of carpets and rags.
  • Making blankets.
  • Making horse rugs.
  • Making wool carpets.
  • Making insulators and upholstery.
  • Making cloth diapers.
  • Making soil fertilizers since it produces nitrogen.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using fur?

Advantages of fur as a fabric.

The advantages of fur include the following:

  • It is highly comfortable because it is light and soft and can be worn for a long period.
  • It is highly durable.
  • Fur garments are highly fashionable.
  • Fur garments are warm.
  • Fur is an Eco-Friendly material because it can easily be degraded by microorganisms.

Disadvantages of fur.

The following are the disadvantages of fur when it is used as a fabric.

  • Fur processing uses chemicals that are toxic to the environment.
  • Fur usage has endangered a lot of animal species.
  • Fur processing consumes a lot of energy that pollutes the environment through emissions.
  • Animal wastes from animals reared for fur contaminate water bodies.

How is fur processed?

In fur processing, the word pelt is commonly used. Pelt is the hide or skin prepared for tanning by removing hair or wool.

Fur processing of obtaining fur from animals to make desired final products. The processing involves 2 main procedures:

  • Preservation.
  • Dressing.

Preservation.

This is the first process after harvesting fur from animals.

It involves methods such as:

  • Air drying.
  • Salt curing.
  • Brine curing.
  • Pickling.

Air drying.

This is a method of preservation that involves:

  • Ground drying: This is a method of preservation that involves spreading out the skin directly on the ground.
  • Frame drying: This involves drying the skin by suspending it on an angled frame.
  • Suspension drying: This is drying the skin by suspending it over a thin cord or wire.

Salt curing.

This method of preservation involves applying dry table salt to the flesh side of the skin. The skins are stacked on each other with the flesh side up. 

Salt absorbs the moisture from the skin and also inhibits any microbial growth.

Brine curing.

Brine is a highly concentrated salt solution. Brine curing involves dipping the skin in a brine solution.

Dressing.

This is the most important part of fur processing. The quality of fur depends largely on this process.

The process involves several steps such as:

  • Soaking.
  • Scouring.
  • Fleshing.
  • Pickling.
  • Tanning.
  • Fatliquoring.
  • Drying.
  • Staking.
  • Buffing.
  • Dyeing.
  • Finishing.

Soaking.

As soon as fur/pelt is received from the preservation step, it is put into soaking and rehydration. 

The purpose of this step is to rehydrate the collagen tissues of the fur into almost the same levels of water as it was before drying. This makes the fur more flaccid, and ready for mechanical and chemical treatments.

Fleshing.

This is the step of removal of the fascia or flesh layer, that separates the skin from the fat layers and organs of the body. 

This layer is not readily permeable and offers resistance to chemical solutions. Fleshing should be done very carefully to avoid cutting too deep into the skin and damaging root hairs, eventually losing fibers.

Pickling.

This is the step of the chemical treatment of fur. This process prevents bacterial attack and contributes to the hydrolytic breakdown of collagen.

Sulfuric acid and salts are the oldest and most commonly used chemicals in pickling.

Tanning.

This process of dressing is aimed at converting the fur matrix from putrescible to imputrescible.

The process involves the use of protein stabilizing agents like chrome salts, aluminum salts, aldehydes, etc.

Chrome salts are the most used chemicals and the process is popularly known as chrome tanning.

Oiling.

This process involves applying oily or greasy substances to the fur. The application of fatty or oily liquors of synthetic, vegetable, or animal nature causes lubrication, preventing the adhesion of fibers during drying, and making fur soft and strong.

Staking.

This process is aimed at stretching and softening the fur.

Buffing.

This process gives the fur desired shape and velvety complexion.

Dyeing.

The application of dyes enhances the appearance of fur.

Is fur eco-friendly?

Eco-friendliness is the state of a substance being harmless to the environment.

Fur does not pose any threat to the environment, but the process of production is harmful to the environment.

According to an article, the Processing of fur uses chemicals such as formaldehyde which is toxic to humans and animals. 

The processing procedure emits toxic gases from the burning of fuels. Animal wastes produced during fur harvesting accumulate in water bodies, causing pollution.

Conclusion.

This blog article has answered the question of the biodegradability of fur.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Fur processing.
  • Biodegradation process.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of fur fabrics.
  • Eco-friendliness of fur.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is fur biodegradable?

Are hair and fur biodegradable?

Yes, hair and fur are naturally occurring organic polymers that are susceptible to microbial degradation.

Can dog hair go in the compost?

Yes, dog hair is compostable. It is broken down by microorganisms into small biomass. This qualifies it to be used in compost.

Does putting hair in soil help plants?

Hair contains high levels of magnesium mineral which is essential for plant growth. Keratin, a protein making up hair, breaks down into nitrogen and phosphorus which are highly essential for plant growth.

Citations.

Ashish 1995 Kumar. ( February 27, 2018). Fur processing. LPT slides.

Retrieved from:

Plavcan, J. M. (2001). “Sexual dimorphism in primate evolution”. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 116 (33): 25–53. doi:10.1002/ajpa.10011. PMID 11786990

Feldhamer, George A.; Drickamer, Lee C.; Vessey, Stephen H.; Merritt, Joseph H.; Krajewski, Carey (2007). Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity, Ecology (3 ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Denise N. Green. ( August 3, 2020). Processing Fur: An Unexpected Journey of Discovery During a Pandemic.

Retrieved from:

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