Can You Compost Clothing?

earthworms on a persons hand
Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn on Pexels.com

Something that is little talked about, and often it seems isn’t thought of during the design and manufacturing processes is the end of life of the garment. What will happen to it when it’s no longer being worn? I suppose this is because we assume it will end up in landfill – but what if we could compost our clothes and turn them back into the soil to regenerate the next lot of fibre being grown? 

This is exactly what Cotton Australia is trialing now in a small town in Queensland called Goondiwindi. They are taking old cotton sheets and coveralls from state emergency services, shredding them and “feeding” the soil before the next crop is grown. 

They have also previously run an experiment using small 2cm squares of cotton in the local soil and used lab tests to see how it impacts the soil and if it breaks down and they found most of cotton fabric broke down within 24 weeks! And not only that – it improved the bacteria and fungus in the soil too. It’s such an awesome way to manage waste from the fashion industry – imagine all the cutting floor waste from making t-shirts being returned to the farms who grew the cotton, and it improving the next growing season! Only time will tell if this is a suitable solution. 

This is great to hear it’s doable on a large scale, but can we also compost clothes at home and what do we need to know and take note of before we do? Here’s a guide you can keep at hand for when it’s time to recycle those clothes and they are too worn out for op shops or maybe even the rag bag! 

  1. Ensure your garment or textile (like sheets or curtains) is 100% natural fibre ie: cotton, silk, linen, hemp, wool. 
  2. Remove any extra items such as elastic, zippers, buttons, studs, synthetic care or brand labels, or beading or sequins
  3. Shred the textile to start the process and help it biodegrade a little quicker. Add it to the compost heap with some other wetter materials such as grass clippings. 
  4. Make sure no more than 25% of your compost heap is clothing – this helps to keep the nitrogen and carbon levels balanced. 
  5. Make sure to turn your compost heap, and if you find something that isn’t decomposing (say a button you missed, or maybe a patch of fabric that’s different from the rest) then pull it out, it will most likely be a synthetic and non-compostable – but don’t worry you haven’t ruined your compost! 
  6. If you have a worm farm you can put 100% natural fibre textile into it, but it is not food for the worms, rather bedding or use it as a worm blanket. 

As easy as that! I’ve included a handy printable guide below that you can keep in your laundry or garage to remind you when it comes time to compost those clothes that are beyond repair.

Let me know if you’re going to give it a go – but remember that if your clothes still have life consider swapping, donating, repairing or revamping before you compost! The most sustainable clothing you can get is something you already own! 

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