Eggshells, Leftovers, and...Your Shirt? Compostable Clothes Have Hit the Market

A Swiss company manufactures fabric you can toss along with food scraps.
Jan 17, 2015·
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Chemical dyes, polyester tags, and buttons don’t turn into dirt. So tossing clothes, even those made from natural fabrics, into the compost bin isn’t a good idea.

Along comes Freitag, a Swiss retailer that’s now manufacturing textile safe for the garden and composting facilities.

“Most companies still have polyester thread in their clothing, but our thread is 100 percent biodegradable, as are our shirt buttons, which are made out of nut,” Freitag spokesperson Oliver Brunschwiler told Fast Company.

Cotton is a natural fabric, but it uses a lot of water to grow. (One cotton shirt requires about 700 gallons of water to produce.) So the company opted for locally grown flax, hemp, and modal (a textile spun from wood) for the textile. Only the pants’ metal buttons can’t go in the compost, and they can be detached for reuse. According to Freitag’s website, it doesn’t bleach the materials and uses reactive dyes, which are organic.

Freitag has been known for reusing truck tarps to make messenger bags. An unsuccessful quest for tough, sustainably produced work wear for its employees five years ago inspired the company to dabble in textiles. The techniques for making compostable fabric aren’t new, but the company couldn’t find clothes that were well fitting and entirely compostable.

Freitag’s fabric will break down in a compost bin in a few months, but before then, the clothes are designed to endure multiple wears.

“It’s very thick, very solid material, scrub resistant, more like a work wear thing or a strong denim,” Brunschwiler told Fast Company.

It may feel rougher compared to other materials at first touch. But according to the company, test runs indicate that wearers “will soon be addicted to its feel.”

The clothing is made and sold exclusively in Europe for now, but the U.S. market could prove viable for the product. Americans only donate or recycle 15 percent of their clothing, sending more than 10 million tons of discarded garments to landfills every year. Alongside paper and food waste, textile has one of the lowest recycling rates of all reusable materials in the country.

“The U.S. has a lot of potential in terms of linen and hemp,” said Brunschwiler. “It could be that we’re hitting the U.S. market very soon.”