I discovered that I’m a decompinaut.
I’ve been searching for a way to make use of discarded textile waste in a way that does not release toxins (from dyes, flame retardants, residual pesticides and so forth) back into our food chain. Why do I care? Because even while my business re-uses cotton by turning it into pillows, duvet covers and window treatments, I still have bags of fabric, pieces too small, worn or stained, that is waste from my process stream. It sits under my work bench, a guilty reminder that I can do more.
And, someday even the new things I make from pre-loved fabric will be someone else’s garbage.
Last year I came across this completely mind blowing video www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jae_rhim_lee.html of artist, Jae Rhim Lee, speaking about the mushroom burial suit she created as a way to remove the many toxins from the human body after death. The process is called decompiculture.
Decompiculture was coined recently by Timothy G. Myles, forestry professor of the Urban Entomology Program at the University of Toronto, and refers to how decomposing organisms could be grown or cultured for a variety of uses, including eating our garbage.
I’ve posed the question on Twitter and Facebook the last couple weeks, can decompiculture be used on toxic textile waste? Why anyone would care to try?
In www.islandparent.ca/family/wantnot.html Beth Yim said, ‘The fashion industry presents another waste problem. Globalization has provided us with a cheap supply of clothing, so cheap that many consumers consider it disposable. There’s even a term for it: “fast fashion.”
In Canada, textile waste accounts for four per cent of materials in landfills. On average, 80 per cent of that material is still wearable. If we took all the textiles thrown into landfills in Canada in a one-year period, we could build a solid structure as wide and tall as the Skydome three times over.’
Reducing our use of textiles is a first step, as Tiffany Roschkow points out in her post www.ecolivinglondon.org/blogs/ecolifestyle/green-wardrobe-planning.
Re-use and recycling is a natural second step to deal with this giant problem. But fabric at some point after being re-used is too icky and thin, or after being recycled the fibers are too short to re-spin. So we are still left with a huge amount of textile garbage.
Researchers in India have come up with a way to compost rayon, linen, wool and cotton by mixing it with manure and letting red wigglers eat it and to turn it into compost (earth911.com/news/2009/08/05/ – see the article by Lori Brown “Researchers Convert Textile Waste to Compost”). That still leaves the issue of toxins from the fabric being pooped out by these earth worms as part of the new soil they have generated.
Over a year ago I put some cotton in my compost bin. It’s gone but I’ve been advised not to use the compost on food plants since the plants probably absorb toxic chemicals from the fabric, which I would ingest if I ate them.
Paul Stamets to the rescue. Mr. Stemets is a researcher who has demostrated how mushrooms turn a stinking pile of toxin laced petrochimicals into non-toxic nourishment for plants and animals, and a whole new ecosystem.
In the mean time I have stuffed my scraps into a cloth bag and am using it as a floor pillow, giving it new life until we have a decompiculture program in Ontario.
And now for a celebratory video, a murmur of starlings doing a million bird ballet: