Muslin Composting Project Underway on FIT Campus

If you see students collecting the muslin scraps that are created at FIT on a regular basis, you can rest assured the material is not going to the landfill. Thanks to Textile Development and Marketing students Lydia Baird ’16 and Willa Tsokanis ’16 who developed the FIT Muslin Compost System, the material is now being composted and recycled into nutrient-rich material that can be used in all campus green spaces, particularly FIT’s Rooftop Natural Dye Garden.

Lydia Baird mixes material into muslin scraps in preparation for the composting process.
Lydia Baird mixes material into muslin scraps in preparation for the composting process.

A great idea that the students took to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) ― built on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative and established to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world to take action on global challenges ― the compost system has now been fully implemented. Composting bins reside in the courtyard behind the Great Hall, where Baird and Tsokanis bring the muslin scraps, mix them with a variety of organic material and thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria, and leave the combination to “cook” or break down, and then have a new life feeding the soil where it’s distributed, managing water use, and reducing dependence on pesticides.

Compost ShedCotton muslin fabric is at the heart of a fashion designer’s creative process. They use it to test ideas on a form, experiment with sewing, and make sure fit and proportion are correct before cutting and sewing the final fabric. Cotton muslin is different from other fabrics because it rarely has a life beyond the designer’s studio. It does not make its way into wardrobes or charity shops.  What makes cotton muslin’s lifespan so short is also what makes it perfect for the FIT Muslin Compost System.

Some facts about cotton muslin:

  • Cotton muslin is free of dyes, printing, and finishing.
  • If cotton muslin isn’t composted, there’s no secondary use for it, so it is tossed away.
  • How much cotton muslin is being wasted? The design of a blouse typically uses 1.5 yards of muslin. A circle skirt takes approximately 3 to 4 yards of muslin.
  • The production of cotton, the most common natural fiber in the world, reached over 120 million 480-pound bales per month in 2013-14. While a number of downcycling processes exist for cotton waste (secondhand clothing, the rag market, and industrial products such as insulation), these methods only defer the inevitable dumping of the waste in landfills.
Muslin that has been composted.
Muslin that has been composted.

The compost system is one of the most recent sustainability initiatives that have been embraced by FIT. It was developed in part as a companion to last year’s CGI U project, the Rooftop Natural Dye Garden, where plants and flowers are grown, then harvested and dried to become a source of natural dyes. The compost project is helping to create nutrient-rich material to help the dye garden flourish.

To get involved with the project and to learn more, visit egosumterra.com.

Photos by Jerry Speier