By Elena Picci

Are Biodegradable Clothes Sustainable Over Time?

By now you should know that the most sustainable way to shop is to invest in clothing that lasts.
But following this logic, are biodegradable clothes considered sustainable?
Wait a minute! Biodegradable doesn’t mean low quality!

By now you should know that the most sustainable way to shop is to invest in clothing that lasts.

But following this logic, are biodegradable clothes considered sustainable?

Wait a second! Biodegradable doesn’t mean low quality.

image credit: Stella McCartney X Adidas

What are biodegradable clothes?

Biodegradable clothes are made of materials that can break down naturally. The materials are decomposed and digested by microorganisms such as bacteria. You know what happens to your clothes when you throw them away. Biodegradable clothes could be a solution to avoid tons of waste.

Image Credit: Bottega Veneta

Are biodegradable clothes sustainable?

Biodegradable clothes have the potential to reduce the amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills and incineration plants. However, biodegraded clothing could have some consequences for our beloved planet. Here two questions to keep in mind in order to assess whether a biodegradable garment is sustainable:

#1: How much time does it require to break down?

Clothes made of natural materials such as cotton break down faster. All materials eventually break down, but for mediums like synthetics, it can take centuries. According to Ellen MacArthur’s study, The degradation process of cotton in a landfill can take up to 5 months and polyester up to 200 years. Other materials such as Rayon and Linen could break down in just a few weeks when properly buried in the soil (Vogue Business).

Find sustainable clothes made of Linen

The word biodegradable can be confusing as there is no universal definition of it. The European Commission; defines an item as biodegradable if it reaches 90% of its biodegradation within 6 months once put in the right conditions ( EN 14046).

However, because the “right conditions” are not explicitly defined, the amount of time that an item takes to biodegrade can vary. We don’t want what we throw away to stay in landfills forever! Buying less is the most sustainable option.

#2: What are the byproducts?

Okay, it disappears. At what cost? 

The material biodegrades but what does it leave behind? Biodegradable clothes are not necessarily safe for the environment. Depending on the material and the chemicals used the item could release harmful substances into the soil when it breaks down. A biodegradable piece made of synthetic material could pollute the environment by releasing micro-plastics. Natural materials treated with chemicals can be harmful to the environment as well. Even if the problem is not visible, it is still present.

Choose certified organic cotton materials to best protect our planet! 

Image credit: Bea Fremderman

Are biodegradable clothes sustainable?

You might have heard that if an item is biodegradable it will not stand the test of time, but biodegradable doesn’t mean low quality!
Biodegradable clothes will only break down if they are under conditions that promote decomposition.
“A number of factors, including light, water, oxygen and temperature determine the rate at which this biodegradation of organic compounds occurs,” Giusy Bettoni, CEO of C.L.A.S.S., an eco-textile consultancy.
Don’t worry! Your biodegradable t-shirt will remain loyal to you and breaks down only when you decide you don’t want it anymore.
Soon some brands will be releasing biodegradable jeans and shoes:

create your account and receive alerts when they drop 

Sustainability Alerts

All You Need To Know