Cotton is the most popular and widely used fiber in the ready-made garments and fashion industry. The best properties of cotton include its durability, malleability, and extreme versatility. But is cotton biodegradable?
Yes! Organic cotton is 100% biodegradable. They are made from cotton plants belonging to the family Gossypium. Under the proper weather conditions and microbial action, they can be decomposed into carbon matter and water.
You can see cotton degrade in both the presence and absence of oxygen. Although it might take some time, organic cotton will always return to nature.
However, synthetic cotton is also now on the market. You might not be able to turn them into carbon matter like the organic ones.
What Does Biodegradable Mean?
Biodegradable refers to any substance that degrades using biological means.
When an object can break down into constituent elements via a natural process, you can call it biodegradable. Here, the “natural” process includes microbes, fungi, bacteria, and more.
The term “biodegradable” often refers to eco-friendly products. Products that aren’t biodegradable can cause carbon fingerprinting. They also waste energy since they hold their form for a very long time.
On the other hand, biodegradable products can turn into free carbon matter. They can store energy that converts into other forms of energy down the line. Thus, the flow of energy continues, and there is no waste of energy.
How Is Cotton Biodegradable?
When a product biodegrades, it simply disappears into soil or water. It then returns to its basic form so that new living creatures can use it or grow and reproduce.
Cotton plants are the primary source of organic cotton. Organic cotton is basically a plant tissue.
Like any other plant part, cotton is also fed on by microbes. Once the cotton is in contact with the microorganisms and has the necessary decomposition conditions, it degrades over time.
You can introduce cotton to a composting pile or water, soil, temperature, etc., and set the required situation.
With the help of other natural ingredients, the microbes break down the cotton fiber and turn it into energy forms and compost pile. Either the microbes directly feed on the energy, or other plants will consume soil nutrients for growth and metabolism.
Thus, the circle of cotton plant life goes on, and its biodegradability continues.
Is Cotton Eco-Friendly?
Cotton, like any other biodegradable product, is eco-friendly. As cotton completes its life cycle, there is no stage where it causes harm to the environment.
Another interesting fact is that you can recycle cotton if you want. This means you can reuse cotton from a used fabric or product.
As long as cotton is not exposed to extreme conditions such as soil or water microbes, high temperatures, humidity, and excessive pH levels, you can reuse and recycle it.
The durability of any cotton fabric is attention-worthy. You can use cotton products such as soft toys, blankets, clothes, etc., for years on end.
Even when the cotton is torn off, you can collect the cotton and recycle it to make similar products again. In this way, cotton promotes zero wastage and helps build a green environment.
How Can You Use Cotton For Compost Pile?
One of the best ways to recycle cotton is to turn it into compost piles. Cotton composting is simple. It won’t even take much effort on your part. The microbes that perform composting mechanisms already exist in nature.
If you want to use it for your farm or house plants, you just need some old cotton clothes, soil, and water to start with. As a result, you will get an eco-friendly compost pile in a short time.
There is one thing you should keep in mind. You can only use organic cotton for composting.
Synthetic cotton, or cotton fibers and wipes mixed with synthetic chemicals, will not turn into compost. Even cotton balls with makeup products on them are non-compostable.
What Makes Cotton So Durable?
Cotton fibers are naturally pretty durable due to their structural composition. Each thread consists of several concentric layers.
The cuticle layer is made of wax and pectin materials. It can be separated from the fiber itself. Then there is the most peripheral fiber layer, also known as the primary wall. Cellulosic crystalline fibrils build up the wall.
A secondary wall exists that can be divided into three distinct layers. All these three layers consist of parallel fibrils and spiral windings. These fibrils are densely packed and constitute most of the cellulose within the fibers.
The remnants of the cell contents make up the lumen, which is the innermost layer of the cotton fiber. The lumen contains liquid containing the cell nucleus and protoplasm before the opening of the boll (protective encasement).
Draining this liquid causes twists and convolutions in the dry fiber. The fiber has a bean-shaped cross-section that swells to a virtually spherical shape when it absorbs water.
This multi-faceted structure and composition of cotton come as a blessing to the natural fiber. It makes cotton utterly durable while also making sure it stays biodegradable.
How Long Does It Take To Biodegrade Organic Cotton?
Organic cotton is a long-lasting fabric. However, with the right environment and natural microbes, it breaks down quickly. Cotton can deteriorate in a week to 5 months when exposed to soil and water or a compost container.
The time required is highly influenced by the size and thickness of the fiber. Other elements, such as soil pH, moisture, soil bacteria, weather, and so on, can also influence the duration of biodegradation.
Biodegradable materials that promote bacterial development in the soil can also help speed up the process. This is a technique that most composters use to biodegrade cotton.
What Is Synthetic Cotton?
Polyesters are used to make synthetic cotton and synthetic fiber. Polyester fibers are created by putting coal and petroleum through a series of chemical reactions. These fibers are far more durable than natural cotton fiber.
The durability explains synthetic cotton’s popularity and demand. It also does not stretch, shrink, or wrinkle when exposed to water.
Synthetic cotton has plastic-like properties, including non-biodegradability. It has the potential to be harmful to the skin. As a result, these are best suited for outdoor use.
The artificial fabric has a negative impact on the environment in many ways. Although recycling and upcycling techniques for polyester fibers are being developed, organic cotton is always a superior alternative.
Why Do People Prefer Organic Cotton Over Synthetic Cotton?
Organic cotton fiber is entirely eco-friendly. In terms of biodegradability or durability, they easily outperform any synthetic cotton product!
Besides, cotton is very convenient to use. The easier the fibers absorb water, the more quickly you can dry them. So it’s easier to clean and dry cotton fabrics than synthetic ones.
They are also heat-resistant. You can iron and steam any organic cotton fabric. There is no fear of burns and wrinkles. They are breathable for your skin. Doctors suggest organic cotton fabrics for newborns to avoid rash or other toxic reactions to their skin.
On the other hand, synthetic cotton or polyester fabrics are non-biodegradable. They lack convenience. The cleaning procedure may require special instructions to be followed. Some require dry cleaning, and some will get ruined by regular water and soap or detergent. Many are heat-labile. Ironing and steaming may destroy the color and structure of the fabric.
Some people may be allergic to certain types of synthetic fabrics. Babies may get rashes in hot weather with these clothes.
What Are The Limitations Of Organic Cotton?
To be honest, there isn’t much limitation to using organic cotton fiber over synthetic fiber. Organic cotton does not absorb all colors, which may be a source of concern for the fashion industry.
Due to its distinctive structure, organic cotton fiber prefers to absorb natural colors or dyes. Several textile manufacturers use chemicals to create vibrant colors on cotton based on client demand. However, if the color isn’t intense enough, it may fade over time.
This may appear to be a problem at first. But fashionistas rarely commit to a single fabric for long periods of time. Cotton fabric, as previously said, is quite durable. As a result, when the color fades, which shouldn’t happen for two or three years, the cotton can be recycled for new uses.
Another significant drawback is that cotton plants require a lot of water. As a consequence, pests and insects pose a challenge to them.
To overcome the problem, farmers use pesticides and chemicals. These pesticides can have a negative influence on the ecosystem as well as human health.
So, is cotton biodegradable? Cotton has long been one of the most extensively used biodegradable materials. Synthetic cotton has its market in today’s fashion sector. Yet we can’t overlook the importance and comfort of using organic cotton.
Most customers prioritize organic cotton since it is readily biodegradable, compostable, and long-lasting. You can recycle cotton into mattresses, thrift stores, compost fertilizer, baskets, towels, floor mats, foot warmers, pet warmers, and other eco-friendly DIY projects.
Simply put, there is no better option for creating an eco-friendly society and giving back to the environment than using organic cotton!