Biodegradable polyester clothing made with wastewater
One major problem with oil-based polyester clothing is that when washed, they shed microfibers, tiny particles of plastic that are washed into the ocean and even contaminate our drinking water. These particles never fully disappear and can be mistaken for food by fish. The company Mango Materials uses a biobased plastic called PHA, which is made by methane-eating bacteria, to make a biodegradable version of polyester.
Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) is a bioplastic produced by bacteria. The bacteria eat methane, producing a fully biodegradable plastic, which can be spun into threads to make fabric.
Mango Materials specifically produces Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a type of PHA, which has properties similar to polypropylene. The company utilises waste methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is potentially 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and can contribute to the reduction of the ozone layer. The methane they use is often flared or released into the atmosphere. The bioplastic they produce is used to make a biodegradable polyester.
PHB is biodegradable in many environments, including home composting and wastewater treatment plants. This means the microfibers that are released when the garment is laundered will biodegrade in the wastewater treatment plant before entering the aquatic environments. Even if marine life happens to eat the fibres, they can digest them naturally.
Mango Materials currently have one pilot facility, located at a wastewater treatment plant, where they use waste methane to feed the bacteria. They are also talking with other methane producers, such as dairy farms, where gas released from manure can be captured. The company is currently having the PHA fibres tested and validated by brands and third parties and are looking for partners to help us not only scale the production, but work throughout the entire value chain to incorporate the material into their products.
While the company is mostly focused on the fashion industry, PHA can also be used to make packaging and other plastic-based goods, hopefully replacing oil-based plastic in the near future.
Photos: Mango Materials
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