We explore the reasons why 100% biodegradable underwear may not be that sustainable
There’s no doubt that the fashion industry is up there in the ‘bad boy leagues’ when it comes to problematic practices. It is notoriously resource heavy and has complicated - often exploitative - supply chains.
But the appetite for fast fashion seems insatiable, and when there’s people desperate to buy ‘stuff’ for the sake of stuff, you know there’s gonna be plenty of shady agents and players out there in the field who are just as desperate to satiate that appetite. If it can make a quick buck for them, why worry about the long term cost to everyone else?
So what do we do? Throw our hands up in the air coz there’s no point caring? Nope. Of course not. We scratch our heads, we stroke our chins and look pensively out of windows. We knuckle down and research our little butts off to come up with better ways to do things.
The ultimate 'better way to do things', at least in our humble opinion, would be to have 100% biodegradable fabric to make our undies out of. Honestly, if you sneaked a peek into nat’v’s dream journal, you would definitely see the words 100% BIODEGRADABLE UNDIES circled in a love heart with eco friendly glitter (is that a thing?).
We would write our first name next to its last name and stare dreamily out the window whilst listening to 80’s New Romance records. It’s our goal. It’s where we wanna “see ourselves in 5 years”.
We've actually been searching for a solution ever since we started Nat'v Basics (this lofty goal of ours is kinda why we started it in the first place). But, alas, we are yet to make it work for ourselves. We're definitely getting closer and closer, and we're very proud of our products that include 78% natural fibres in our signature range, but we wanted to share a little behind the scenes on our journey to 100% biodegradable undies.
The first big challenge we've come across is that even when we reach our goal of creating 100% biodegradable undies, that can meet the standards we've set with our range, is that we are still not set up to deal with the ‘end of life’ of biodegradable products. As a country, we don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with the commercial level composting available through councils that we would need to ensure everyone has access to dispose of them properly.
Apart from the odd person that might pop them in their home compost and let their old knickers feed their new plants, the rest will inevitably end up in landfill, which is very problematic:
"Not everything that’s biodegradable breaks down in any location in a reasonable amount of time.
Landfills, for instance, not only slow biodegradation, but also contaminate the process with toxic chemicals. Items biodegrade anaerobically (without oxygen) at landfills, creating huge amounts of not just carbon dioxide, but methane, a GHG 25x more potent than CO2."
The second unfortunate truth is that 100% biodegradable undies might not have the longevity that we're able to achieve with our current range, which means our customers would need to restock their undies drawer more regularly. Until we solve the problem of dealing responsibly with our products end-of-life, it just doesn't make sense to us to make their life cycle shorter.
There's a lot of resources that go into growing, producing, manufacturing, shipping and storing the materials it takes to get your undies from the forest to your door, so until we can safely return them to the forest floor, we know we have more work to do before making the switch.
One bit of good news we can share is that great strides are being made by the sustainable textile industry with regard to the final piece of our puzzle: stretch! Undies need a little give, which means some sort of elastane or elastic is needed in the fabric to make them super comfy.
We're very excited about the future of this fabric and are testing versions with recycled materials and natural fibres. Whilst we're still not ready to go 100% biodegradable just yet, a full 'cradle-to-grave' life cycle product is in our sights - so watch this space... and get a home compost for your undies to help us get there sooner and safely!