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Wood pulp and algae T-shirt decomposes at end-of-life

Out There | November 25, 2019 | By:

Tech-based clothing startup Vollebak has launched a T-shirt made entirely from wood pulp and algae. The shirt will break down in soil or in a composter within three months.

Photo: Vollebak.

Vollebak sources wood from eucalyptus, beech and spruce trees, which are chipped and pulped before being turned into fiber, then yarn and finally into fabric for the T-shirt.

Instead of using dye, the plant and algae shirt relies on the raw color of the tree pulp, resulting in an off-white shade. Spirulina algae are used to print the front of the shirt and washing instructions inside. Vollebak expects to rely on the carotenoids and chlorophylls in other algae to add reds, oranges, bright blues and purples to other garments.

The natural pigments within algae oxidize, which means the shirt changes color and fades over time. The company recommends hand-washing the T-shirt in cold water with little detergent to make the dyes last as long as possible.

Video: Vollebak.

Vollebak points to the use of algae as a pendulum swing from using graphene and carbon fiber in its other clothing lines. Consumers can think of algae as “a space-age material that just happens to be 1.5 billion years old.” It is the source of all plant life, produces up to 80 percent of the oxygen on the planet and consumes carbon dioxide, the company says.  

The production of the shirt aims to be close to the earth as well. The algae are grown in bioreactors. The wood pulp is sourced from sustainably managed forests, and the fabric is produced in an environmentally responsible and closed loop process. As a result, more than 99 percent of the water and solvent used to turn pulp into fiber is recycled and reused, according to the company.

Consumers can facilitate the end of the shirt’s life cycle by burying it in the ground or sending it to a composting site, where fungus, bacteria and heat from the earth will let the fibers and dye biodegrade and turn into worm food.

Founded by twin brothers, designers and athletes Nick and Steve Tidball, Vollebak uses science and technology to make clothing.

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