A How-To on Composting Your (Wool) Clothes

So now that we know  that we can compost our clothes and with the separation between natural fibres and synthetic fibres, and the multiple kinds of natural fibres on offer are numerous, and these natural fibres come with the benefit of being able to be composted, which does include wool.[i] So this one will be about wool, and with some important information as ‘food for thought,’ consider:

Every year, Americans, alone, throw away 11,000,000 million tonnes of fabric and clothing.[ii] And 99% of textiles remain recyclable.[iii] Traditionally, wool has been used for fertilizer in the district of west Yorkshire.[iv] The issue with wool is that it takes a heck-of-a-long time compost. That’s a concern, and a valid one if time is an issue for your projects.

And that waste is not only of the fibre themselves, but of water, and in an increase of pollution as well.[v] But, and to start, there are some general things that can be done to speed up the process for wool, and in fact other natural fibres.

Photo Credit: Alder and Ash

Photo Credit: Alder and Ash

You can chop up your clothes, especially for big harder-to-compost natural fibres like wool.[vi] Apparently, it’s important according to the Texas Office of Agriculture. If you visualize it, that means the tough material can have more surface area on net, with each and every piece taken into account, for the environment to working on degrading the wool.

If you’re super keen and diligent about biodegradation of the wool, you can, and should, remove the non-biodegradable materials such as the synthetic fibres to permit the complete composting of the compost pile. Synthetic or man-made materials cannot be composted – so any that you do not remove will not go away. You’ll have your compost as compost+ or, maybe, compost- with the additional bits of non-wool in it.

Some more involved things include the creation of a hot compost, the addition of earth worms, and recycling the things that cannot compost.

Photo Credit: Casella Organics

Photo Credit: Casella Organics

Hot composts – real quick – these can help with the time management concerns of composting that darn wool! Hot composts contrast with cold composts or regular composts. The kind where you simply throw a pile of bio-degradable materials together and wait – that’s cold composting.

Hot composting “produces compost in a much shorter time. It has the benefits of killing weed seeds and pathogens (diseases), and breaking down the material into very fine compost.”[vii] (Wow!) You can also check out other resources as well.[viii],[ix],[x]

Earth worms can, to no surprise, can help with the compost process.[xi] Worms have been hard at work throughout evolutionary history breaking down materials and returning to the earth once the material came.

vermicomposting72

Feng and Hewitt said, “Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body. Compost exits the worm through its’ tail end. This compost can then be used to grow plants. To understand why vermicompost is good for plants, remember that the worms are eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps, and turning them into nutrient-rich compost.”[xii] Reason enough? Good, because even if it isn’t, with the other reasons it should be, I think.

So consider a combination of chopped wool bits from the clothing, hot composted, and with earth worms to boot. You’ll have that wool composted in no time! And it’ll be ready for fertilizing, too, very likely nutrient-rich. And if any questions, check out the endnotes!

[i] alderandash. (2012, July 11). Composting Woo.

[ii] Mind Your Waste. (2012, March).

[iii] Fisk, U. (2011, November 7). Is Fabric Compostable?.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Hearts. (n.d.). Surprisingly Compostable Textiles.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Deep Green Permaculture. (n.d.). Hot Composting – Composting in 18 Days.

[viii] Bement, L. (n.d.). Hot Composting vs. Cold Composting. Retrieved from Fine gardening

[ix] Government of New Brunswick. (2016). Building A Hot Compost.

[x] Savonen, C. (2003, February 19). How to encourage a hot compost pile. Retrieved from Oregon State

[xi] Fong, J. & Hewitt, P. (1996). Worm Composting Basics.

[xii] Ibid.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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