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Biodegradation behavior of wool and other textile fibers in aerobic composting conditions

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posted on 2024-06-19, 01:14 authored by Stewart CollieStewart Collie, Peter BrorensPeter Brorens, Md. Hassan, Ian FowlerIan Fowler

Pollution of the environment by microscopic fragments of plastic is a growing environmental concern. A category of this pollution is fiber fragments from textiles, a source of which is believed to be fibers released by clothing made of synthetic fibers during laundering. These fragments could enter the environment at the end of the textile’s useful life if it is not re-used or recycled. Disposal of biodegradable fibers could be achieved by industrial composting, but natural fibers are sometimes modified during manufacturing in ways that might influence biodegradation. The composting behavior of fabrics made with unmodified and chemically modified wool fibers (chlorine-Hercosett treated), regenerated cellulose, and several synthetic fibers was compared in industrial composting conditions according to an established standard test method. The fabrics were characterized by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, energy dispersive X-ray and electron microscopy. The regenerated cellulose (viscose rayon) biodegraded to the greatest extent in the test, and both types of wool also biodegraded readily. All three synthetic fibers had no biodegradation. The machine-washable wool biodegraded more rapidly than unmodified wool and analysis of residues at the conclusion of the test indicated that it did not generate non-degradable fiber fragments. The epicuticle of unmodified wool is covered with a hydrophobic layer, which may resist microbial attack, but with time this slowly degraded. Conversely, the machine-washable wool is hydrophilic and therefore was easier for microbes to attack. If not re-used, commercial, machine-washable wool textiles can be readily disposed of in industrial composting conditions.


Australian Wool Innovation, contract number 4500012232


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Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Publication date


Project number

  • PRJ0071979


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No


Springer Nature

Journal title

International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology



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