To reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfill, we can limit our consumption of clothing, choose natural materials wherever possible, wear it out, repurpose or upcycle the fabric and haberdashery, recycle the fibres if you have this option, and compost biodegradable clothing – in that order. If you are doing this well, you shouldn’t have to donate clothing to charities or others (which is reuse, not recycling by the way), except perhaps for children’s clothing which can be grown out of long before it is worn out.
In our home, clothing moves through a system of garments we wear in public to those we wear around the home and for outdoors work until they are worn out. Sometimes clothing is not comfortable or suitable for outdoors work so it’s often upcycled as we need things. For times when we have enough fabric for future upcycling projects, and the home and work clothes are too tattered, I compost the biodegradable fibres or bury them in the garden. This process gives me a sense that I am treating garmets as a valuable resource and using them to their full potential. It’s basically running a circular economy at home because I eventually return firbres to the soil, where new fibres can grow.
Natural textiles that can easily biodegrade (break down naturally from bacteria) include, but are not limited to, cotton, silk, wool, cashmere, bamboo, jute, and hemp. These textiles will decompose in one week to one year in most cases. Wool and bamboo could take up to five years. Leather and cork are also biodegradable clothing materials but will take much longer to break down.
To get started, first make sure you have removed the non-biodegradable materials like plastic tags, buttons, zips, elastic, clips, press studs and so on. Save these for reuse or donate to opportunity shops or craft groups.
Next, shred your clothes as much as possible. Smaller pieces will decompose faster. The rate of decomposition will also be affected by how healthy your soil is and if you have a hot or cold composting system. Hot composting systems and healthy soils full of micro-organisms will decompose material faster.
*Side note: instead of shredding your clothing you can use the fabric as weed matting by laying it flat under your mulch around new plants and in new garden beds.
Given the amount of clothing I am composting on this occasion and because my chickens have reduced my compost heap to virtually nothing, I have decided to bury the scraps of fabric in different parts of the garden that won’t be disturbed for a long time. Now I will completely forget about the clothing, and as always happens, I will be a little suprised the next time I’m digging in the area to discover it is no longer there.