Fashion and Methane Eating Bacteria

Kirsten Long

Scientists have talked a lot about how significantly climate change can and will affect our planet but only a few have touched on the impact the clothes we wear have on the environment. The truth is, the fashion industry is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The fashion industry is among the most polluting business sectors, having direct impacts on the environment, but thankfully more and more clothing manufacturers are acknowledging that fashion brands and climate change are linked. In fact, some are trying to do something about it. For example, a new start-up called Mango Materials has found a way to help reduce the negative impact of its industry by making t-shirts from waste methane and then recycling them in a closed loop. The business magazine Fast Company has reported that instead of using ancient fossil carbons to make materials, Mango is using waste methane to feed bacteria that produces biodegradable bio-polyester fibers in a pilot facility located in Redwood City, California. The methane-eating bacteria are able to produce PHAs, a plastic that is spun into thread. This biological version of polyester is used to make the clothing, but also allows the garments to biodegrade naturally. The methane released when the clothing decomposes can be captured and used to make new pieces of clothing.

This method of creating new material is also helping reduce plastic pollution in the oceans. Tiny fibres from a t-shirt made of regular polyester are washed down the drain when put into a washing machine. Since the fibres are so small, they do not break down in wastewater treatment plants, causing them to end up in the ocean. With the use of the new material, the fibres can degrade at the treatment plant instead, preventing them from entering the ocean.

The ethical fashion site, Gather and See has outlined the impacts of processing raw materials and the amounts of water used in the generation of t-shirts. Think about it: 2,700 litres of water to make just one shirt. Not only does fashion’s footprint pertain to the actual garments, it also touches on agriculture, as it relates to the use of hemp, flax, leather, and wool; forestry due to the use of rayon; mining because it uses metals and stones; as well as construction of retail outlets and shipping of garments.

When it comes to Mango Materials, yes they are just one fashion manufacturer; however, the company is talking to various methane producers about how to capture the gas and sequester it into new products. Also, a handful of apparel and textile companies have been testing the product. By the way, PHAs can also be used to make packaging.