For the first time ever, a clothing company has come up with a sustainable way of making tee-shirts out of wood pulp and algae so they can be composted at the end of their life.
London-based tech startup Vollebak designed the Plant and Algae T-Shirt so that wearers can simply compost the shirt by burying it in their backyard.
The shirt’s fabric is made out of sustainably sourced eucalyptus, beech, and spruce trees that are chipped, pulped, and spun into textile yarn. The ink on the shirts is made entirely from algae that the designers grew in a bioreactor.
“Instead of passing lake water through a cotton net, we pass water from the bioreactor through a filter,” reads the Vollebak website. “This process separates the algae, leaving a soupy algae paste. This paste is then dried in the sun to create a fine powder, and this powder is mixed with a water-based binder to make algae ink.”
Since algae can’t survive out of water, it then turns into a natural pigment which fades to different colors over time. This way, Vollebak designers say that no two shirts end up looking the same after they’ve gone through multiple washes.
“The Plant and Algae T-Shirt feels like a normal t-shirt when you wear it. It’s not going to start biodegrading if you go for a run or hang it up to dry,” the website continues. “It’ll only start to biodegrade when you bury it in the ground or put it in the compost. It needs the fungus, bacteria and heat from the Earth to start to break down. If you want it to biodegrade, you have to bury it in the ground.”
The tees, which can biodegrade in 8 to 12 weeks, were developed to be an innovative solution to textile waste. According to a report from the EPA, about 10.5 million tons of textiles were sent to landfills in 2015, amounting to roughly 7.6% of total landfill waste.
Other sustainability reports say that it can take anywhere from 25 to 40 gallons water to dye 2 pounds of fabric with the textile industry uses almost 25 trillion gallons of water every year.
Though these Plant and Algae T-Shirts are currently being sold at $110 a pop, the idea could spark an entirely new generation of eco-friendly clothing.
“The wood is turned into fabric using an environmentally-responsible and closed-loop production process,” says the website. “In practice this means that over 99% of the water and solvent used to turn pulp into fibre is recycled and reused. And on the Higg MSI scoring system—which measures the impact of producing a kilogram of fibre taking into account fossil resource depletion, water scarcity, eutrophication and global warming—this fabric scores 10 against cotton’s score of 60. Our eventual aim is to score 0.”
The company’s waterproof and highly breathable Solar Charged Jacket, which is made to glow in the dark (even after being near only a light bulb) and can roll up in your hand, was named as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2018.
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