This Company is Making Synthetic Clothes That Will be Fully Biodegradable

PrimaLoft managed to break the biodegradability code for synthetic fabrics.

Feb 24, 2019

Microfiber has been hailed as the warm and waterproof alternative to goose down and can be found in a myriad of products from fleece to winter coats and ultra-warm sleeping bags. The only problem - until recently there was no biodegradable synthetic fiber.

PrimaLoft, a company that makes microfiber insulation that is used by top brands like LL Bean and The North Face, has been working since 2014 to create an alternative to microfiber insulation that will not end up contributing to microplastics littering the ocean.

Plastics usually biodegrade very slowly, and synthetic clothing can take hundreds of years to break down and microfibers are particularly polluting because fibers are lost every time they are laundered, with the synthetic polymers finding their way into our water.

The company's new insulation, PrimaLoft Bio, is made from 100 percent recycled polyester so while it is made of synthetic fibers, they will biodegrade quickly if it does end up in landfills or waterways.

The company began working on the Primaloft Bio performance fabric at a time when the news of plastic waste ending up in our oceans and harming fish and other wildlife was just beginning to be fully understood. “We were just starting to hear concern around microplastics in the ocean,” Mike Joyce, president and CEO of PrimaLoft told Fast Company.

At the time, various brands were discussing possible solutions, including working with companies that make washers and dryers to create filters to catch fibers and working with the government to try to pass laws to limit fiber loss. But they realized that the process would take time, and even if regulations passed in the US, a jacket might eventually be discarded in another part of the world.

Joyce said that his company realized that all of these solutions would take time to implement and even if the US passed regulations, other countries might not. A better solution to the issue for the textile industry was needed.

“What we looked at in a pragmatic way is, let’s assume by some shape or form material gets into the environment, in our waterways or oceans or landfills,” Joyce told Fast Company. “Then what can we do as a company to help solve that?”

PrimaLoft's materials scientists spent over two years working on the answer. They came up with a chemistry that works very differently than their previous synthetic fibres. Then they spent more time making their own tiny fibers (that are 1/50 the size of a human hair) out of the material.

Essentially the company added a food source for the naturally occurring microbes in the landfills or waterways to the polyester. “The microorganisms are attracted to the material and they feed off it, and as they feed off it, they’re eating the food we’re giving them, but they’re also degrading the polyester at the same time,” said Joyce.

The new biodegradable synthetic fabric was then tested in an accelerated landfill where chemical processes help to break down waste, according to Fast Company. The new material was completely returned to nature in a year. Joyce admits that it is not a perfect solution, but it is better than plastics.

The company is working with a few brands to bring jackets made from the recycled material to the market by 2020. “We’re grabbing a few key partners and we’re actually teaching them our technology so they can produce shells and liners, because what we think that we really need to offer the industry is a total solution,” Joyce told Fast Company.

“Here’s your insulation, here’s your shell, here’s your liner, here’s your zipper, here’s your buttons–here’s everything you need to put together a technical piece.”

Cleaning up our oceans is going to take a commitment from every company that uses plastic to green up their act. PrimaLoft is working on its part to reduce the impact of the textile industry and will hopefully be an example for other companies to green up too.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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