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’s 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.
And like all things in fashion - even slow fashion basics - there’s trends that emerge.
A current trend is to create 100% biodegradable undies.
Now, 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 it’s 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”.
But right now, if we’re honest, we feel like it’s erring on the side of ‘performative’. As a country, and an industry, we’re not there yet.
Two major sticking points are that we are not set up to deal with the ‘end of life’ of biodegradable products. So, as heartfelt as it may seem to make them in the first place, we just don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with their ‘last place’.
And 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 anyway.
The other unfortunate truth is that 100% biodegradable undies will… dum dum duuuumm….. biodegrade. AKA fall apart. Which means once you take the longevity out of your undies, you’re gonna be re-stocking your basics on the reg. Like, really reg.
Even if money wasn’t a factor for you, there’s a serious argument to be made about the unsustainability of growing, producing, manufacturing, shipping and storing the materials it takes to get your undies from the forest to your door.
Does the ‘100% biodegradable label’ you get to brag about outweigh the fact that you need to redo all those processes every month or so, rather than every couple of years?
Here’s a little breakdown of some of ‘behind the scenes’ issues with 100% biodegradable fabrics:
- Resource Consumption
While 100% biodegradable underwear may be made from natural materials like organic cotton or bamboo, the production process still requires a significant amount of resources. Growing, harvesting, and processing these materials can require large amounts of water, energy, and other resources. For example, bamboo requires a lot of water and energy to grow and harvest, and organic cotton may require more water and land than conventional cotton.
- Chemical Treatments
To make biodegradable underwear, the materials often need to be treated with chemicals to make them more resistant to odor, moisture, and other factors that can cause the fabric to break down. These treatments can be harmful to the environment and may leach into the soil or waterways when the underwear is discarded.
- Short Lifespan
While biodegradable underwear may break down more quickly than traditional underwear, they may also have a shorter lifespan. The fabric may be more delicate or prone to wear and tear, which means that they may need to be replaced more frequently. This can result in a higher demand for new products, which can increase the environmental impact of production.
- End-of-Life Management
Biodegradable underwear is designed to break down quickly and easily when it is discarded. While this may seem like a positive feature, it can also create problems when it comes to end-of-life management. If the underwear is not disposed of properly, it can end up in the environment where it can harm wildlife and contribute to pollution. Additionally, if the underwear is sent to a landfill, it may not break down as quickly as intended, and may produce methane gas, which is a potent greenhouse gas.
In conclusion, while 100% biodegradable underwear may seem like a more sustainable alternative to traditional underwear, they are not without their problems. The resources used in production, chemical treatments, short lifespan, and end-of-life management can all contribute to the environmental impact of the product. Instead, consumers can look for underwear made from more sustainable materials like Lenzing Modal, organic cotton, hemp, or linen, and choose products that are produced in a responsible and sustainable manner.
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