MaterialDistrict

Plant and algae T-shirt biodegrades within 12 weeks

Technical apparel company Vollebak designed a wood-pulp and algae based T-shirt, which biodegrades within 12 weeks in the compost or buried in the ground.

The fabric is made of pulped eucalyptus, spruce, and beech wood from sustainably managed forests (FSC and PEFC certified), and printed with algae grown in bioreactors. 99 per cent of the water and solvent used to turn pulp into fibre is recycled and reused. The T-shirt is naturally off-white because of the tree pulp.

The name algae includes everything from underwater kelp forests and seaweed, to plankton and pond slime. Algae produce about 50 to 80 per cent of the oxygen on Earth, and has existed for more than 3 billion years. Algae only need light, carbon dioxide and water to grow, which is why it can easily grow in bioreactors.

The algae are used to make a printable ink. Water is passed from the bioreactor through a filter, separating the algae. The algae paste is dried in the sun to create a fine powder, which in turn is mixed with a water-based binder to make algae ink. While algae come in many colours, Vollebak chose a green algae called spirulina. The natural pigment produced by algae in the form of carotenoids and chlorophylls provide a sustainable alternative to chemical dyeing.

Being a natural pigment, the algae ink, which is printed on the front of the T-shirt, starts to oxidise as soon as it comes into contact with air, which means the green will slowly change colour and fade. To keep the colour for as long as possible, the company recommends to wash it in cold water and with as little detergent as possible.

When you’re finished with your T-shirt, you can put it in the compost or bury it in the ground, where it fully composts and biodegrades within 12 weeks. In the compost, it’ll take about 8 weeks. You don’t have to worry that it’ll start to biodegrade while you’re wearing it though, it needs the fungus, bacteria and heat from the earth to do so.

Photos: Vollebak

Comments

  1. Caroline Hyde-Brown says:

    Fascinating!