The world has a t-shirt problem.
You probably have 27 of them tucked inside your dresser, and they’re probably made from cotton, polyester, or a blend of the two.
Both materials are problematic because they harm our planet.
Let’s look at the cotton t-shirt. Cotton is a a natural fiber, a biopolymer even, but cotton is also a very thirsty crop. One pound of cotton (approximate amount needed for one tee) requires 800 gallons of water to produce.
Multiplied by the 27 shirts in your dresser — that’s 21,600 gallons of water used to create your tee collection (the volume of a 5′ deep backyard pool).
Likewise, cotton requires dangerous pesticides & insecticides (about 1/3 pound for every shirt) to be grown commercially. It’s possible that the cotton was organically grown, but unlikely as less than 1 percent of 50,044,933,516 pounds of global cotton production is organic.
Once harvested, raw cotton is transported to mills where it’s cleaned, separated, and turned into yarn called slivers. After it’s processed it’s transported again to be manufactured into clothing. And then it’s transported yet again to distribution points for consumers to buy. These cotton tees have crossed international borders by truck or boat or plane to land in your local retail store.
That’s the origin story of that family reunion cotton t-shirt you’ll wear once this summer.
Now let’s look at the polyester t-shirt. This shirt is made of synthetic fiber, a petroleum-based plastic material. That’s right, the main ingredient of the shirt on your back is oil.
Each time that shirt needs to be washed it sheds microplastic. It’s the very same microplastic you’ve read about in headlines that’s polluting our water, air, and human placentas.
It has been estimated that around half a million tons of plastic microfibers are shed into the oceans annually during the washing of plastic-based textiles such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic, according to A New Textiles Economy Report 2017.
This is no doubt a dilemma. The shirts we all wear and love are destroying our planet.
You might suggest that thrifting is a solution, especially as it becomes a mainstream shopping practice. While second-hand shopping could offer a short-term solution, you’re likely going to wash that polyester top before you wear it, and thus it’s still going to shed microplastics into the environment.
We need to look beyond existing fashion production practices for a solution.
Here’s where PHA comes to the rescue. It’s a novel biopolymer that’s nature-derived and shares similar properties to both cotton and polyester in its strength, elasticity, viscoelasticity, resilience, and compressibility, all the while requiring fewer resources to produce.
Likewise, to make our PHA, we use organic waste like food scraps, dirty cardboard, and agriculture byproducts as feedstock. And when you wash & dry your PHA-based t-shirts, any escaping microfibers can degrade harmlessly in the environment.
Since PHA is relatively new on the biopolymer runway, we’re partnering with Fashion For Good to test our PHA in a variety of textiles, with an eye on accelerating its production. Imagine a world where harmless PHA t-shirts replace those made from synthetic-based fibers.
At Full Cycle, we’re addressing the global food waste problem and plastic pollution at the same time. It’s time to feel good about our clothes again.
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