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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Enhanced Biodegradation Technology Could Significantly Reduce Clothing Impact at the Landfill

37.5 Technology is offering brand partners a new additive that greatly improves and expedites the biodegradability of textiles, for free — to encourage broader industry adoption and help eliminate one of our biggest polluters.

Compounding the problem of the sheer scale of discarded clothing that ends up in landfills is that much of it is made from synthetic materials — which can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to fully decompose. Landfills simply can’t handle that timespan, not to mention the immense amount of greenhouse gas (mainly methane) that decomposition releases — another major contributor to the global climate crisis.

The outdoor apparel industry is front and center when it comes to this problem. A vast majority of outdoor apparel brands — even sustainability-conscious names including The North Face and Arc’teryx — rely on materials such as polyester and nylon to support high performance; but many of those materials simply can’t be recycled or repurposed at scale and head to the landfill at some point between initial sale and end of their useful life.

“The best-case scenario is to keep products out of landfills to begin with,” 37.5 Technology president Blair Kanis told Sustainable Brands™.

Kanis, appointed to her role in March after joining the thermoregulating fabric company in March 2020, has a unique perspective on this major issue. She’s leading a technology supplier that isn’t a household name in the apparel space, but one with big potential to reduce the amount of time that some of these synthetic materials spend in the landfill before significant degradation occurs.

Volcano science to keep cool in warmer climes

Without getting too deep into the science, 37.5 Technology is based around a porous, volcanic-rock-like additive that helps regulate body temperature — whether training in cold weather or heading to a peak-summer wedding. Several brands, including Men’s Wearhouse, Burberry and adidas have licensed the technology to use in performance-type products from pants to outdoor gear.

The technology has also found use in the home goods space, particularly in bedding.

“It’s just such a great place to use our tech,” Kanis says. “You can support two different styles of sleepers in the same bed.”

As a next major step (as of July), all new products featuring the textile now incorporate the Enhanced Biodegradation additive, which accelerates the biodegradation of synthetic textiles in landfills. The additive is made from a compound that enables a quicker degradation of the specific material while allowing active landfills to capture any methane emissions (since the product will now degrade in the landfill's lifecycle), potentially reducing the overall warming impact of the degrading product.

A significant half-life reduction

Kanis says that initial testing of the additive in the company’s polyester textiles shows a degradation half-life of 80 years — which is significantly less than what’s currently possible.

“It’s a pretty exciting advancement,” she explains. “If it’s breaking down that fast, equipped landfills can turn that methane gas into renewable energy. You’ve got more of that virtuous cycle — turning waste into an energy source.”

Perhaps more interestingly, the company is offering the additive — which it sources from a third party — free of charge for any brand partner purchasing 37.5 technology.

The long-term idea is that not only does 37.5 Technology reduce the amount of clothing going to the landfill, it makes quicker work of what’s there (with this additive in it) and is helping to close a bit more of the loop on textile waste.

A broader journey towards climate neutrality

Kanis says 37.5 is working towards greater transparency and accountability on a couple of fronts.

First, the company is planning to launch a blockchain technology by the end of the year that will allow everyone who touches the textile along the supply chain to input production and processing information. That data will be available to brand partners to easily extract and transfer into their own systems (for external reporting, for example).

Next, the brand aims to become climate neutral — which Kanis says will be detailed in a roadmap in 37.5’s annual CSR report this fall.

As with many new technologies, broader industry adoption will be key to making the impact of this additive noticeable; but offering it for free within an existing customer space can only aid in proliferation.

“We don’t want a brand to have to choose between performance and sustainability,” Kanis says.

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