This Shirt Turns into Nourishment for Plants When it's Worn Out

The sustainable green t-shirt is made from plants and algae and will turn into worm food in just weeks.

Sep 7, 2019


This Shirt Turns into Nourishment for Plants When it's Worn Out | The sustainable green t-shirt is made from plants and algae and will turn into worm food in just weeks.

Most people have their favorite t-shirts that they love to wear. The older they are, the softer and more comfortable they become. But what do you do with an old shirt that is just too worn out to wear anymore?

Clothing cannot just be put into a recycling bin. Fashion has not been a particularly sustainable industry. One of the most innovative ideas, is the new plant and algae t-shirt from Vollebak, a London tech-based three-year-old startup. This shirt is designed to be left out in the garden when it is too worn to wear anymore, and it will compost into worm food in just 12 weeks.

This is remarkable for an industry that is highly polluting generating 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gasses. But there are ways to make sustainable choices when you buy clothing. Many companies are using recycled or repurposed materials and there are clothing cooperatives where people share clothing. Nothing even comes close to Vollebak's new tee.

That's because the t-shirt doesn't start out like any other shirt, according to the company, it's built from wood pulp from sustainably managed and certified forests and algae that is grown in bioreactors.

The food is sourced from eucalyptus, spruce, and beech trees that are chipped and pulped before turning into fibers that are spun into yarn that is used to make the fabric according to a company press release.

The design on the tee is 100 percent made from algae. To turn the green algae into a printable ink, the company uses a technique that is used in Kenya to make cakes from algae. This process leaves a dried algae powder that can be mixed with water to create ink.

“The only thing different about this t shirt is that it grew in soil and water, and that’s where it’s designed to end up too. All you need to do is remember to compost it at the end of its life. Here it will biodegrade with them, turn into soil, and help new plants to grow,” Vollebak co-founder, Steve Tidball said in the press release.

He pointed out that algae cannot live outside of water so you are not wearing a shirt that is alive, but because it started as a plant, it will not act like a chemical dyed fabric. "As soon as it comes into contact with air it starts to oxidize, which means the green will begin to change color and your t shirt may look different from one week to the next as it fades, making every t-shirt unique.”

Vollebak looks at algae as a new space-age material that just happens to be 1.5 billion years old. Like all plant life, it consumes CO2 and produces around 330 billion tons of oxygen  per year. The startup wanted to use algae in clothing and figured out how.

The shirt will decompose if it is put in a compost bin or in the ground but not if it stays in your closet or dresser drawer. "The plant and algae T-shirt needs fungus, bacteria and heat from the earth to start to break down," Tidball told Dezeen. Depending on the temperature and the soil make-up, the shirt is expected to completely break-down in around 12 weeks.

Now that's sustainable green fashion. Hopefully Vollebak will come up with other compostable clothing and this will be a starting point to help green the industry. Then you can shop for new duds guilt free.

How H&M's Award Recognizes Undiscovered Sustainable Designers
The Lost Property Clothing Library Make Fashion More Sustainable
Wrangler Blue Jeans are Going Green!

Bonnie 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.