The apparel industry has a waste problem of epic proportions. Every year, Americans alone chuck 32 billion pounds of textiles in the trash with the same casual ease as they would a banana peel or an empty juice box, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That works out to a mountainous 381,500 truckloads’ worth, or roughly 6 percent of all municipal solid waste generated in the country.
But what if all it could just go away? That’s a tack that a small but burgeoning movement of denim makers is counting on.
In 2015, Freitag, a Swiss brand best known for making bags out of recycled truck tarpaulin, debuted what it claimed to be the world’s first 100 percent compostable jean. Part of a line of European-grown and -produced workwear, the five-pocket design contains no polyester trims, nylon thread, or Lycra blends, only bast fibers such as hemp and linen. Rivets are verboten. To button up, it eschews plastic in favor of tagua nut, the so-called “vegetable ivory.” The only exception is the main pant closure, which demanded something more robust.
“For a long time we searched in vain for a resilient biodegradable button,” said Elisabeth Isenegger, public relations lead at Freitag. “Now it is made of metal, but it can be unscrewed and removed from the garment at the end of one life cycle and reused in the next.”