For those who submerge a chunk of polyester material into seawater, it’ll nonetheless be largely intact greater than 200 days later. However when you submerge a swatch of wood-based material, like textile firm Lenzing‘s lyocell fibers, into that seawater, these swatches would biodegrade in a few month.
That comes from a current examine by researchers from the Scripps Establishment of Oceanography, who checked out how artificial versus wood-based materials degrade in marine settings, together with off a pier in California, in a managed aquarium, and in a bioreactor. All settings confirmed comparable outcomes. After 210 days in seawater, the swatches of polyester confirmed “no apparent adjustments” in their total dimension or thickness, the researchers wrote in their examine, just lately printed in Science of the total Environment; the wood-based materials, on the different hand, had been “fully or nearly fully nonexistent” after 28 days. The cellulose material biodegraded in a means just like leaves.
The examine bolsters the scientific claims from Lenzing, which says its cellulose fibers can fight the subject of plastic air pollution in the ocean (and was, admittedly, a joint undertaking between Lenzing and Scripps; a member of Lenzing’s product growth workforce was concerned, and is listed as one in every of the examine authors).
Simply by being worn and washed, our garments shed lots of of 1000’s of microfibers—and if that clothes is product of an artificial, plastic material like polyester, these microfibers are literally microplastics. An estimated 2 million tonnes of microfibers enter our oceans yearly, many because of folks merely doing their laundry. (There are instruments to attempt to catch these microfibers in washing machines.)
“The biodegradability of fibers in clothes is changing into a giant subject,” says Florian Heubrandner, vice chairman of world textiles at Lenzing. The Austrian firm has obtained proof earlier than that its lyocell (model title Tencel) and viscose (model title Veocel) fibers, each sorts of rayons comprised of wooden, biodegrade in water, soil, and compost by way of certifications from Natural Waste Programs and TUV Austria. “We needed to have one other proof from a very well-respected college,” he says of why the firm seemed into the Scripps analysis.
In a previous biodegradability check, Heubrandner says a lyocell T-shirt was put into soil, and 10 weeks later it was gone. Lenzing’s lyocell fibers are amongst its hottest; manufacturers from Allbirds to Casper to Levis supply merchandise made with Tencel.
Viscose is produced utilizing an older know-how, whereas modal and lyocell are produced with newer applied sciences that flip wooden into fiber. Every kind begins as wooden chips, that are was pulp like the form wanted to make paper, after which spun right into a fiber that resembles cotton. (Lyocell, the latest, has a extra sustainable manufacturing course of that makes use of much less water and CO2, Heubrandner says.)
Though these fibers biodegraded in seawater for the examine, Heubrandner says there’s no want to fret about them biodegrading in your washer. “It’s actually a query of time,” he says. “If I had been to clean my denim jacket for eight weeks it’ll additionally disappear, however when you solely wash it for 45 minutes each two weeks, it’s not an issue.”
And since the fibers are biodegradable, the microfibers that shed into the water system when that jacket is washed may even biodegrade. That is why Heubrandner needs folks to know that pure cellulose fibers like lyocell and even cotton are good options to artificial fibers that shed microplastics. “Our fibers, they lose little fiber items however they’re product of wooden . . . so that they’re not an issue for nature,” he says. “They’re not microplastics, and that makes a distinction.”