Both untreated wool and machine-washable wool biodegrade to a high degree, new research shows.

What happens to textile fibres once they enter freshwater systems and the sea?

It’s a question that received scant attention until the recent rise of concern over microfibres.

A substantial body of research firmly establishes how wool biodegrades on land, but far less was understood of its behaviour in the aquatic environment – until now.

Findings released by New Zealand research institute AgResearch now reveal the biodegradation rates of various textile fibres in the marine environment. The research, led by Dr Stewart Collie, followed the path of the fibres released by domestic laundry processes, examining how the breakdown process occurs.

Key Findings

  • Both untreated wool and machine-washable wool biodegrade readily in the marine environment, as does the cellulose-based viscose rayon.
  • Synthetic fibres showed little or no biodegradation.
  • Machine-washable wool biodegraded even faster than untreated wool.
  • There was no evidence that the polyamide resin used in machine-washable treatment causes microfibre pollution.

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Download the Ag Research Case Study Here

The amount of biodegradation of the fibres is expressed relative to a ‘positive control’, i.e. a sample known to biodegrade readily. In this study, kraft paper pulp was used. The average biodegradation of three samples for each fibre type relative to the control was measured