Bio-degradability of Fabrics

When we talk about sustainable fashion, one important thing that is used to distinguish between sustainable and unsustainable fabrics is their ability to Biodegrade.

The fashion industry has become ultra affordable. Earlier people used to wear donated clothes, but with new clothes now so affordable, it’s inevitable that most used clothes will end up in landfills.

I have a few questions with regard to clothes bio degrading:

  1. Does anyone ever put their clothes for composting/ bio-degrading? People usually compost kitchen waste but never heard about clothing.
  2. Is there any service which takes clothes away and gets it Biodegraded? If there is no service existent, does it make sense to have one? This would mean that atleast 30% of the fabrics made today (cotton, viscose, linen, jute, etc) could have an end of life.

Would love to know your thoughts.

Thanks for starting this thread. Textile waste is indeed a huge part of the larger waste problem, and extremely overlooked…
As consumers, what we can do is perhaps adopt a #FashionFasting approach, esp for online and offline sales when we tend to buy too much cause its too cheap.
And be mindful consumers - some simple steps:

Don’t know what you mean by composting clothes… but folks at Goonj and Clothes Box Foundation repurpose used clothes into bags and blankets, and shredded clothes are turned into mats/dhurries. A new org Reti Ecotech is turning pre-consumer textile waste into building blocks for construction.


++ a circular economy startup Muddle Art, which works in the pre-consumer textile waste space. It is attempting to formalise this fragmented and unorganised industry and enabling sorting of wasted cloth into different categories, to create a steady supply to vendor partners for recycling and upcycling.

We had an interesting conversation with Material Library of India . They are focused solely on textile recycling and have done a number of projects in this space. In addition, they also run academic courses on Material Literacy to make people more informed about the materials they use.


This is something I am looking for from a long time. I am more worried for the fabric waste from the garment industries, boutiques, tailor shops etc. I run a ladies and children’s boutique and form past 3 years I have collected a room full of scrap clothes. I am working on a project to reuse those clothes. I have done a few pillows, beds for the street dogs but now I want to utilize these scrap to make sustainable goods.

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The unfortunate part is that there are very little textiles that are a 100% cotton, and entirely biodegradable. Cotton clothes are often dyed with solutions that don’t necessarily lend to the safe degradability of cloth waste.
Composting facilities in most cities are designed for materials that degrade in days (food waste etc) not textiles and biodegradable plastics that take anywhere between a few weeks to a few years. They end up clogging the composting systems and reducing their viability.

The ideal solution (to reduce more virgin textiles to make it into the ecosystem) is to either segregate it and send it for recycling, depending on the city you live in there are collection systems that exist to collect these back.

Post consumer textiles are split into three parts;

  1. Rewearable (as is, or with repairs)
  2. Recyclable (non-contaminated, unrepairable)
  3. Discards. (soiled, contaminated, undergarments, etc…)

The first 2 categories can be put back into the ecosystem and reduce the amount of fresh materials brought into production. The best thing to do to them is to give it to the nearest dry waste collection Center or to your waste picker in a separate bag, so as for it to remain unsoiled. They will either be turned into wiping cloth if they are non-repairable. and if they are rewearable, they will be sold off in used cloth markets downstream.

Saahas and Hasiru Dala in Bangalore used to run cloth waste collection drive to enable uncontaminated collection of textile waste.

Hope this helps.


You may also want to look up the work that EcoReti is doing - construction and interior panels from textile waste.

Hey Vash! This topic is an increasingly top one in the fashion world. Europe has done some great R&D on it over the past decade, and there are new companies in Europe popping up with tech to recycle polyester and cotton into new kinds of yarn which are biodegradabale.

Unfortunately, the Indian textile space is largely unorganized and we have failed to invest in R&D to keep up with the global pace. From an individual point of view, our best scope is to not let the clothes escape society, aka reuse it, and keep reusing them. There’s an increase in reselling programs, and platforms for it.

I have been working to bring change on an industrial scale to the textile industry of Surat. I can let you know that we have tons of textiles going to landfills weekly. Its mountains are full of them. It’s a pressing problem, but without incentive to folks, people will keep sending it to landfills.