The global textile industry creates a vast amount of waste, and students at FIT are beginning to address the issue with a project for this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). “Closing the Loop: FIT Muslin Compost System” is a proposal for the first textile composting system at FIT, designed to break down cotton muslin rather than allowing it to clog landfills. Two Textile Development and Marketing students, Lydia Baird and Willa Tsokanis, have taken up the mantle of addressing textiles’ impact through this CGIU project. They are working in collaboration with the students who developed FIT Natural Dye Garden project, presented at CGIU last year.
Baird and Tsokanis will present their proposal during the CGIU Exchange, part of the CGIU 2015 conference taking place March 6-8 at the University of Miami. Only one in six proposals was chosen for presentation. CGIU Exchange is a forum for students and sponsors to showcase their organizations or Commitments to Action. Exhibitors will be organized by the five CGIU focus areas: Education, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, Public Health, and Environment and Climate Change, the category that “Closing the Loop” falls under.
Baird and Tsokanis chose to focus on cotton muslin because of the vast amount of muslin waste generated by the fashion industry every day. 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 down-cycling processes exist for cotton waste (second-hand clothing, the rag market, and industrial products like insulation), these methods only defer the inevitable dumping of the waste in landfills.
“Recycling textiles doesn’t go far enough – the fibers lose strength,” Tsokanis said. “With composting, you’re turning it into nutrient-rich soil, addressing the really big issue of soil degradation.”
The system the students propose is an on-campus aerobic thermophilic compost bin, which will break down muslin from FIT’s Fashion Design classes. In thermophilic systems, waste is broken down with thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. A key advantage of thermophilic composting is that the high temperatures kill diseases, and quickly and easily creates compost, which can then be used in all campus green spaces, including the Natural Dye Garden.
“Our target market is FIT and the fashion and textile industry,” Baird said. “FIT is a hub for global fashion and sustainable initiatives. Through industry professionals and alumni, as well as conferences and lectures, we can communicate with our target audience and lead the next generation of industry to composting and closed loop production.”