Biodegradable fabrics are good, including for the planet!

Team COEX® 3 minutes

When it comes to environmental sustainability, biodegradability is an increasingly important green objective, including for the textiles sector. Made of COEX® fabrics for clothing and home or office furniture, in addition to being 100% natural and fireproof, are also biodegradable. But when is a fabric biodegradable? 

The biodegradability of materials and products is a major topic in the current debate on sustainability and environmental protection. Besides the increasing awareness of recycling, reuse and recovery of materials, there is an increasing need to limit the exploitation of resources and the production of waste. Biodegradable materials and fabrics are in increasingly high demand.

Moreover, the textile and clothing industry, as is well-known, has a major impact on the environment: not just in terms of water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, but also in terms of waste production. Every year, around 80 billion new garments are produced, and, of the roughly 5.8 million tonnes of textile waste produced in Europe, around a quarter is recycled. Biodegradable shoes and t-shirts (such as cellulose shirts with 4- to 6-month biodegradation processes) seem to be a new frontier of eco-friendly fashion and eco-friendly clothing.

But what exactly does “biodegradable” mean? Biodegradability is the ability of a material or product to completely degrade into basic inorganic molecules, without any external intervention, in the presence of natural agents such as microorganisms, sun and oxygen, in a reasonable amount of time (from “Neo-materials in the Circular Economy”, A. Pellizzari - E. Genovesi, Edizioni Ambiente, 2017). When the biological biodegradation process is complete, a total conversion takes place of the starting organic substances into simple inorganic molecules such as water, carbon dioxide and methane, without pollutants being released. 

It should be pointed out that biodegradation is heavily influenced by the chemical nature of the substance or material that is to be biodegraded and the biodegradation environment: a product made of “renewable” raw material (i.e. plant or animal origin that can be quickly regenerated) is not always biodegradable and, conversely, a product made of raw material from fossil fuels (oil) could become biodegradable.

In textiles particularly, fabrics are often divided up into natural (i.e. derived from organic or animal fibres such as cotton, linen, hemp, wool, silk, jute and caoutchouc) and synthetic fabrics, made from fossil materials (nylon, polyester, acrylic and elastam, better known as lycra); rayon, acetate and viscose, on the other hand, are artificially produced, but obtained from the tree cellulose. “Naturally”, due to their composition, synthetic fabrics have a very low rate of biodegradability. But, in terms of sustainability, this categorisation is not always comprehensive because, as mentioned, the origin does not necessarily determine the material’s impact on the environment: What makes a fabric ecological, and therefore biodegradable, is the production process that the fibre undergoes.

To obtain the final product, the industry actually often employs processes that change the chemical composition of the material, even if it is of natural origin, and this inevitably alters its biodegradation process. 

Moreover, the biodegradation times of a material vary greatly. For the European Union, as per the 2002 EN 13432 standard, 90% conversion must be reached in those simpler substances within six months. In this regard, recently, in June 2018, the Science Learning Hub, a national project funded by the New Zealand Government, published a table listing the biodegradation times for the most common materials. To give just a few examples, the decomposition time of cotton is between 2 and 6 months, while the decomposition period for synthetic fabrics is much longer: Nylon fabric even lasts 30-40 years. Moreover, with the exception of glass, plastic is the material that has the longest biodegradation period: a normal plastic water bottle can remain in the environment for 450 years!!

With all of this in mind, we can understand the great innovation introduced by COEX, the only 100% natural fireproof technology based on cellulose molecules. With this technology, phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur, i.e. environmentally friendly elements, are able to modify and strengthen the properties of the cellulose molecules present in fibres and plant compounds, making them 100% fireproof which do not compromise their biodegradability. Made of COEX fabrics, as well as being made from 100% vegetable fibre, do not contain chemical additives and are therefore degradable in a perfect circular economy cycle: with COEX it is nature itself that protects you from fire, and you protect nature!

Today more than ever textile innovation must operate at different levels, with a particular focus on improving production processes to reduce water and energy consumption, waste production and the use and/or dispersion of toxic substances.

Thanks to COEX, for protection against fire, it is no longer necessary to use synthetic fabrics or use fireproof chemical additives or fireproof resins that are harmful to humans and the environment. Compared to any other fireproof material on the market, it is the only fireproof fabric that has obtained recognition from GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), the most important certification for textile products made with natural fibres from biological agriculture.

Beta Analytic's ISO/IEC 17025:2005 certification certifies that made of COEX cotton has a natural composition of over 99.9%, compared to any traditional fireproof fibre that is, instead, 100% plastic.

By choosing made of COEX fabrics for clothing and for home and work environments you make a choice of 100% natural, sustainable, and biodegradable fireproof security!

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