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LONDON – In a brilliant new op-ed for the next edition of Apparel Insider, Claudia Amos and Georgie Edwards from Anthesis ask whether the growth of biobased materials in the fashion sector can help create a more sustainable future – or whether these new fibres may be creating as many problems as they solve.

A slew of novel materials has hit the fashion industry in recent years, aiming to give brands more environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional fibres. Synthetic leather made from mushroom roots, nylon processed from castor oil and fabrics spun from spider silk – all have welcomed by high profile designers and retailers.

But because these biobased materials start with things like vegetable oil or mushrooms, does that make them easier to dispose of than traditional fabrics? This wide-ranging op-end shows that it’s actually more complicated than that. PLA, for example, is a type of biobased polyester made from corn starch that only biodegrades when exposed to high humidity and temperatures over 60 degrees. Meanwhile, many other biobased fabrics are mixed with non-compostable elements like plastics during manufacturing. The upshot is that many biobased materials are currently difficult to compost using existing waste management services.

Meanwhile, the chemicals and constituents that are often added to biobased materials mean recycling them is rarely straightforward. So far, experts have little experience of working with these materials and products to determine their impact on the environment.

Even materials that may be theoretically recyclable may not be recycled in practice. In many case, biobased materials have not triggered a ‘critical mass’ to bring about a change in how we collect and manage them as waste products.

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