“Biodegradable” and “compostable” are two buzzwords that are catching the attention of an industry eager to reduce its waste input. However, the sustainable solutions pose their own set of challenges in the denim supply chain.
In an interview on Kingpins24, The Lycra Company sustainability director Jean Hegedus shared why the spandex fiber company is choosing to focus on recycling over developing biodegradable or compostable fibers.
The company introduced last October Lycra EcoMade, an elastane made with pre-consumer recycled materials. The fiber offers the same lasting comfort, fit and freedom of movement as the original Lycra fiber, but is made with waste collected at the company’s manufacturing sites and blended with virgin fiber at specific concentrations.
Lycra came to this decision, Hegedus said, by taking a science-based approach to what types of fibers will have the best environmental impact. A lifecycle analysis of the firm’s spandex fibers, she reported, found that raw materials make up over 50 percent of the fiber’s impact on the environment.
Though biodegradable fibers have the benefit of naturally breaking down over time, and compostable fibers help restore soil, Hegedus said they don’t currently address raw material depletion.
“If you have a fiber that biodegrades, you’re having to continue to produce new fiber to replace that, and that means you’re extracting raw materials from the Earth,” she said. “If you [can avoid] extracting those materials by doing things like recycling as opposed to producing virgin material, you can cut down on a lot of that impact.”
Another challenge, Hegedus noted, is apparel is considered to be a contaminant by most compost facilities because they don’t know what materials the trims and threads are made with. Composters have also griped that garments take a longer time to break down compared to the food and gardening waste and can clog up sieves, she said.
“Hopefully, over time, that will change, but it’s going to take some time,” she said. “There will have to be some technology advancements in order to make the composting of garments scalable.”
Lycra, she added, will continue to keep biodegradability on its radar as it may evolve into a “more beneficial end of life solution.”
In the meantime, Hegedus said the company is committed to recycling and increasing garment durability.
“We think those are two things that we can scale and also have more of an impact and better fit with the circular economy,” she said.