Can you compost your old clothes? It turns out that you can do it, but it takes a little work and the right kind of materials. And it depends on your degree of fussiness as well. It needs some background, though.
For example, the EPA showed that, in 2012, 14.3 million tons of textiles were produced by the United States. 2.3 million of that 14.3 million were recovered (a difference of 12 million tons!) and not all of the recovered textiles were reused. So what’s the major division?
There’s two major divisions in material: synthetic and natural fibre. Synthetic will not decompose. Natural fibres will decompose.
The synthetic fibres include acrylic yarn, microfiber fleeces, and polyester/nylon fabrics. These will bog down the compost heap without decomposition. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of natural fibre options.
For example, cotton, hemp, linen, pure wool, ramie, or silk will compost over a sufficient amount of time. The reason being that they aren’t some easily broken down toilet paper. They have a durability, which makes them good clothes. It will take time, but they do decompose. In fact, any combination of them will decompose, too.
Some exceptions are cotton t-shirts or jeans. They claim 100% natural fibre material, but this might not be true. It could be, for instance, polyester cotton, which does not break down as easily. You could have the compost heap, plus some not-so decomposed strings.
You can speed up the process by giving more points of contact, that is, ripping them to shreds and then waiting for them to decompose. What about admixtures? That’s a good question. It’s about ratios and kinds of materials.
If more synthetic than natural fibre, then it’s not going to decompose as much. If more natural fibre than synthetic, then it’s going to decompose more than if the ratio was reversed. It’ll depend on how finicky you are, basically.
There’s other consideration to do with not composting stained clothes, depending on what was used to stain it. Don’t compost clothes stained with paint or engine oil, do you want those in your compost heap? Nope.
Next consideration, what about the eventual compost material used for vegetables, growing them. Dry cleaned natural fibres might be an issue and heavy prints, there could be some contamination there.
This extends to slogans, designs, aspects of weaves, fabrics that have been soaked. PVC ink could be printed on them too. PVC plastics will not break down. A further note dependent on the individual level of fussiness about these parts of the decomposing planning stage, and eventual process.
Something that can also help with the breakdown of the natural fibres, because you wouldn’t use synthetics, are adding vegetable or fruit peelings, cuts from the garden, and other wet and more easily compostable items. And keep the natural fibre content to ¼ of the pile, and no more!
And while we’re on the subject of composting and sustainability, try reusing your old clothes, or give them to others to borrow (or even have!). Charities are always in need, and the recipients of the clothes would be absolutely grateful. You can do crafts with it. But, of course, you can always, as in line with some of the information given above, compost the clothes!
For Further InformationBaird, L. (n.d.).
- Why Composting Your Old Clothes Should Be Fashion’s next Hot Trend.
- Can I Compost this?. (2015). Can I Compost This?.