Biodegradability: Is It Just Another Buzzword?
Selecting the most sustainable method of design depends completely on the type of product. So Jeans, for example, should be designed for reparability and longevity as a priority, while biodegradability would be better suited for underwear or socks.
*If you wish to know more about the Circular design approaches we recommend you to read through the “Circular Design Toolbox” by the Global Fashion Agenda.
Sustainable Clothing company Vaude, states the following and we can agree; “The solution cannot be just to replace all clothing to biodegradable – durability and recyclability is the solution. That’s why the focus has moved past biodegradability to circular design.”
Providing information on how and where a product was made, along with tips on how to take care, repair, and recycle, or given its end life places to compost or companies that help to biodegrade is a decisive and important factor to ensure the circularity of design. If customers are not well informed or educated, the probability of circling a product declines and turns into a very difficult task.
Approaches we can take to mitigate the impact and enhance this are the following:
Increase communication and collaboration; create new systems and new partnerships that circle around this.
Education at every level (product developers, designers, sourcing, and supply teams) into thinking circularly and using lessons learned, cases, practices, and tools applied.
Develop systems and companies to collect textiles and either recycle, repair, compost or help biodegrade. One of the biggest challenges will be to attract investors and dedicated scientists who will continue to invest, money, and time in building these tools. For example, Saitex partners with Atelier and Repairs to upcycle unused denim and keep unwanted jeans in rotation longer. Once they can no longer be repaired, Saitex has also partnered with a textile recycler that turns discarded textiles into tiles.
And finally, even if there is industry fatigue around the matter of certification; maybe what we need right now to avoid false or wrong marketing and open loops in this area is a certification for composability and / or biodegradability put in place industry-wide. These claims shouldn’t be put vaguely and it's imperative for them to be sustained all the way through the supply chain. We have seen these certifications in the plastic industry, but as a textiles concern, Hohenstein is the only company we have found to provide some sort of biodegradation certificates in textiles and yet it’s very vague.
We can't say a jean is biodegradable just because the cotton it contains is organic. What happens when the dye or coatings are non-biodegradable and finished with trims that are hard to be disassembled? This can break the entire degradation cycle and actually harm the soil and environment.
Our way of thinking has to be changed and shifted for good. We have to design for circularity aiming for biodegradable materials because they are better, but let's not use biodegradability as a marketing technique. Brands need to change the language around their claims to reflect the fact that the product won’t outlast you if it does end up in the landfill, backed with information for your customer to keep their product circulating in the world longer.
As Bert Van Son, owner and founder of MUD jeans recently expressed on the latest Fashinnovation talks, “Good is the new cool and people like to talk about their clothes and how good they are. But education is of the essence”.
So what can we do? Buy garments that last longer, use them longer, repair them, and then recycle them. Buy better materials, and listen to inspirational success stories. Don’t stay with the buzzwords that create misinformation and confusion. Don’t go after eco conformism. Give meaning to these words. Create a consciousness around them and at the end of the day, never stop asking questions.
💡 Bonus Material: What is “Eco-Conformism” ?
A term coined by Anatt Finkler that means having a conformist attitude in relation to terms related to ecology and green matters. Eco conformism refers to taking the eco buzzwords as a general truth and just following them because of the fact that they talk about green practices, not asking questions or digging deep into the matter to acknowledge whether the word or claim has real meaning or speaks the truth.