Sustainability… such a buzzword in the fashion industry right now. While the intention may be pristine, the execution and understanding of it still need a ton of work. My husband is a pioneer in the denim industry for pushing more sustainability in the sector with the most water waste in the game, and so I am constantly exposed to the words biodegradable, compostable, and of course sustainability. Even though I’m married to someone well-versed on the subject matter, my knowledge is still a bit hazy. The information out there is endless and all a bit confusing.
It is safe to say that we use the cheap material excessively in our daily life. Unfortunately once plastic has outlived their usefulness, we may think we are properly disposing of it, but the majority of our plastic is making its way into landfills. Only about 10% of plastic actually gets recycled. If your plastic packaging is contaminated with food waste and is no longer able to be recycled, that plastic along with your whole recyclables will be sent to a landfill. The answer? Compostable plastic.
Compostable Plastic – the next trend in sustainability?
Compostable plastic integrates into the organic waste system and returns to organic matter in the soil. Thankfully compostable plastic is utilized in packaging in the fashion industry as well. But first, let’s start with a little clarification on the terminology.
Compostable vs Biodegradable
These terms seem to be thrown around interchangeably but in all reality, they are quite different. The term biodegradable takes on a vague definition and simply reflects the actual process, not including the conditions the compounds went under or even the time frame. The rate of decomposition diversifies among all compounds – some can even take hundreds of years. For instance, wood is biodegradable but thankfully our wooden structures don’t dismantle for generations. When talking about biodegradable plastics, they can be broken down completely by microorganisms under the right conditions in water, naturally occurring gases – such as carbon dioxide or methane – and also biomass.
A material that is compostable under certain conditions – such as heat, oxygen, or even microorganisms – will disintegrate. Under the presence of these high conditions, industrial compostable packaging can break down within 180 days. Compostables can be broken into CO₂, water, or even nutrient-rich compost leaving no toxic residue. We may be a little more familiar with food compost, which is a rich type of soil and organic matter with a higher concentration, rich with microbes and nourishment for things to grow. In simpler terms, we give our leftover food back to the earth in order to grow more food.
In Europe, they have set a standard that must be met to be certified as compostable. The EU 13432 defines the characteristics that material must possess to be considered compostable and can be recycled through organic recovery – composting and anaerobic digestion. While searching for compostable packaging in our daily lives, you can be sure by looking for a label of certification with the compostable logo.
Composting Plastic at Home
Compostable plastic may not necessarily decompose when in a landfill. For the most, part landfills are packed tight and have no oxygen so these compostable plastics may not break down. So how should we be disposing of these compostable plastics? Plastic that is labeled as compostable is generally intended for an industrial or commercial composting facility. Compostable plastic typically needs higher temperatures and different breakdown conditions than our food scraps. Your community may have a residential compost collection program, so check with your local government or recycling company to find if they will accept compostable plastic. If the label indicates that the product can be composted at home, you may put it together with your home compost.
Sustainability in Fashion – who’s using compostable plastic?
Since the fashion industry collectively seems to be following slowly on this path, companies like TIPA have made readily available compostable packing for brands to offer compostable options. If you tuned in with us for our Checking In With Friends edition with Anja Tyson, a contributor and long-time friend of ATPB, she highlighted a little about this company that is paving the way in compostable plastic. With their proposal of garment bags, zipper bags, and even compostable plastic for fabric rolls, fashion brands can do their part to lessen their use of conventional plastic. Their own technology requirement ensures that their flexible biomaterial is just as good as conventional plastic when it comes to shelf life, durability, and transparency. Top fashion designers such as Gabriela Hearst, Mara Hoffman, and Stella McCartney use compostable bags by TIPA.
Fashion brands may be consciously pursuing material and packaging alternatives to reduce their environmental footprint, but as consumers, we can make our own effort in choosing brands that embrace sustainability at 360 degrees. We must hold companies to eco-friendly standards to make sure that their unsustainable practices become ‘out of fashion’.
Image credit: Karina Tess