What is biodegradable clothing? (5 properties of clothing) 

In this article, the term biodegradable clothing will be explained in detail. Related aspects will also be shed light upon that will include:

  • Why biodegradable clothing?
  • What is biodegradable clothing?
  • What is natural clothing & its impacts?
  • What is synthetic clothing & its impacts?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Can clothes be recycled?
  • FAQs

What is biodegradable clothing?

Biodegradable clothing is made from natural fabric fibres such as cotton, silk or wool. Since it is made from natural materials, the microbes can degrade it in a matter of a few days to some months. 

Biodegradation is the degradation caused by enzymes and microbes. It is important to ensure that waste does not accumulate and cycles back into the system. If it does not, there can be negative repercussions on the environment. 

The impacts of biodegradable clothing are very few as compared to non-biodegradable clothing. This is mainly because of the fact that the former will degrade and not cause a burden on waste management systems. The former will also not lead to harmful effects on the environment. 

Why biodegradable clothing?

The concept and practice of clothing have existed from the very start because man’s need to cover his body and private parts has existed all along. That is the reason the concept of clothing is found in almost every society of the past and the future. 

However, with the rising commercialisation and industrialisation, many factors, aspects and domains have interlinked. 

If we look just 100 years into the past, the term eco-friendly almost did not exist as it exists today and it certainly was not linked with clothing the way it needs to be linked today. 

The primary reason behind this novelty is the unprecedented change and environmental catastrophe that we all face and bear. 

Nature has its own way of showing our actions and the karma of nature is amazingly absolute. Examples of this statement can be found in all the recent catastrophes that have struck in various parts of the world recently. 

For example, quite recently in the monsoon season of 2022, Pakistan received an enormous amount of rainfall that led to one of the worst floodings the country ever faced that affected more than 30 million people. 

Due to these rising anomalies, it has become incumbent that every consumer product is viewed and filtered with the constructive lens of environmental friendliness because it will be a win-win situation for all of us. 

A good example of such endeavour can be the recent advances in the field of environmental psychology that amalgamate the concepts and practices of psychology and environmental studies to achieve both environmental sustainability and human well-being. 

The assessment of biodegradable clothing is another example of such endeavour wherein consumers and producers are urged to not only consider the utilitarian aspect of clothing but also the environmental aspect of it. 

What is biodegradable clothing? (5 properties of clothing) 

Every consumer product has some effect on the environment and human health. Therefore, it is essential to know that effect in the first place so that its optimisation may be sought in the next step.

Therefore, it is essential to know how various consumer products gel with the environment. When that is done, biodegradability is a very important factor or parameter. 

Biodegradability means the breakdown of waste into simpler substances. This happens so that waste may not accumulate but rather is utilised. 

Clothing is a very important consumer product because everyone needs clothing, be it rags or riches. There are more than 7 billion people on this earth. If one person uses even two pieces of clothing in a year (which is a sheer understatement), this amounts to 14 billion pieces of clothing as a waste. 

Therefore, it is important to know what biodegradable clothing is. Clothing that degrades readily in a matter of a few days or weeks is termed biodegradable clothing. In other words, clothing which is made from natural fabrics is biodegradable clothing. 

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

  • Style characteristics 
  • Utility 
  • Durability 
  • Performance 
  • Cost-effectiveness

What is natural clothing?

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

Clothing products may usually be natural and synthetic. Natural clothing 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. 

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

That is because of a number of reasons. Firstly, natural clothing is sourced from plants and animals. If unsustainable amounts of clothing 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 clothing may also stem from issues of land misuse, infertility, and an unbalanced proportion of resources. 

Another impact of natural clothing on the environment is that the production process involved in clothing 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 in clothing production. Most natural clothing is 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 synthetic clothing?

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. 

Common examples of synthetic clothing products will be viscose, acrylic fabric et cetera. You may wonder what is the need for synthetic clothing 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 clothing products deliver better utility at even better prices. 

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

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

The environmental impact of synthetic clothing is worse than that of natural clothing. This is because the former are made at the expense of products derived from fossil fuels. 

Further, since there are petroleum-based products involved, synthetic clothing is non-biodegradable and may persist in the environment for a very long time. 

The impacts of synthetic clothing on the environment can diverge into the following key points: 

  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • GHG emissions
  • Rise in temperature
  • A rise in sea levels
  • Melting glaciers
  • More floods
  • Frequent droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Insects attacks
  • Land degradation
  • Food shortage
  • Food security concerns
  • Species endangerment 
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of aquatic life
  • Accumulation of plastics
  • Disruptions of ecosystems

What is biodegradability?

It is the breakdown of waste into simpler substances by various drivers of life. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, algae, and decomposers are the most common drivers that cause biodegradation. 

Other important elements that are essential to the equation of biodegradability are aeration, sunlight, temperature, pressure, and other external conditions. 

Recent approaches in biodegradation have also enabled scientists to employ lab-based enzymes and chemicals to achieve the process of biodegradation. 

You may wonder why biodegradation is essential. It is important because it leads to reduced waste generation and accumulation. 

This ensures that life and the environment are saved from the harmful and degradative effects of biodegradation. This will also enable better waste management because if waste management is facilitated, there will be decreased consumption of energy and resources. 

Based on biodegradability, waste may be divided into two categories. These are 

  • Biodegradable waste
  • Non-biodegradable waste 

Examples of biodegradable waste include crops, plants, dead animals, manure, sewage, bioplastics, and natural fabrics. These may degrade in some days or some months. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic plastics, epoxies, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fabrics like acrylic fabrics. These substances may remain in landfills for hundreds of years. 

For example, synthetic plastics may degrade in more than a thousand years while also causing other environmental problems such as global warming, weather anomalies et cetera

Can clothes be recycled?

Recycling is the reusing of products to achieve better waste and resource management. The applications and processes of recycling are also important because the current waste generation has already crossed the given threshold. 

Some of the common materials which can be recycled include:

  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Batteries 
  • Plastic 
  • Clothes 
  • Electronics

As a general rule of thumb, most of the materials can be recycled including both biodegradable and non-biodegradable. However, since the impacts of non-biodegradable products are greater than biodegradable products, the recycling of non-biodegradable products is preferred. 

Recycling leads to a number of benefits that include:

  • Better waste management
  • Better resource management
  • The best alternative for non-biodegradable waste
  • Decreased use of raw materials
  • Decreased pressure on non-renewable resources
  • Economic advantages

In light of these benefits, it is important to ask whether clothes can be recycled or not. Clothes can be recycled. 

In fact, recycling is considered one of the best solutions to deal with non-biodegradable material because it leads to delayed effects of non-biodegradable waste on the environment. 

Conclusion

Biodegradable clothing is made from natural fabric fibres such as cotton, silk or wool. Since it is made from natural materials, the microbes can degrade it in a matter of a few days to some months. 

The impacts of biodegradable clothing are very few as compared to non-biodegradable clothing. This is mainly because of the fact that the former will degrade and not cause a burden on waste management systems. The former will also not lead to harmful effects on the environment. 

Frequently Asked Questions: What is biodegradable clothing?

What is the duration difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable clothing?

Let us take an example of cotton and polyester. Cotton can degrade in 2 weeks to 5 months. Polyester may take more than 500 years. 

Which is cheaper: biodegradable or non-biodegradable clothing?

Usually, non-biodegradable clothing is cheaper as compared to biodegradable clothing. This rift, however, can be bridged with technological advancements. 

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.
  • Strand, E. A., Frei, K. M., Gleba, M., Mannering, U., Nosch, M. L., & Skals, I. (2010). Old textiles–new possibilities. European journal of archaeology, 13(2), 149-173.
  • Arshad, K., Skrifvars, M., Vivod, V., Valh, J., & Voncina, B. (2014). Biodegradation of natural textile materials in the soil. Tekstilec, 57(2), 118-132.
  • 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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