A few weeks back, PrimaLoft announced it had developed something called PrimaLoft Bio, an insulation made from recycled and, here’s the kicker, biodegradable synthetic fibers. Now it’s announced it’s also figured out how to make recycled and biodegradable synthetic performance fabric. This is a pretty big deal—if it performs well and catches on.

You probably know that microplastics are a serious pollution problem, and synthetic fibers are part of that. Microfibers have appeared in bodies of water all over the world, at alarming levels. When we wash our fancy outdoor gear, if they’re made with synthetics, we’re washing more microplastics into local waterways. When we throw out old synthetic clothes, they end up in landfills, where the microplastics will linger for seemingly ever, if they don’t also find their way into the sea. Something like half a million tons of microplastics find their way into the ocean each year. Plus, new studies show microplastics and fibers are showing up in human feces. We’re unwittingly eating the stuff now.

PrimaLoft hopes to change that.

Their biodegradable synthetics are pretty interesting. PrimaLoft has discovered how to make the fibers more attractive to microbes that break down synthetics. The little buggers can break down the fibers relatively quickly, leaving behind mostly water, biomass, carbon dioxide, and methane.

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According to PrimaLoft’s studies, 55 percent of the new biodegradable fibers will be broken down in a marine environment within roughly 400 days. This is compared to 2 percent of normal synthetics. In a landfill, the biodegradable fibers will be 84 percent broken down in 400 or so days, compared with the same 2 percent for run-of-the-mill polyester.

Lest you worry this means apparel made with this new material will break down in the presence of dirt or water, PrimaLoft says the material will only degrade when exposed to specific microbes found only in landfills or the ocean. So don’t go swimming in the sea or rolling around in the dump while wearing it, in other words.

“We never saw recycling as the final answer. We have not only been able to break the biodegradability code but, we’re really setting sustainability forward,” said Mike Joyce, head of PrimaLoft, in a presser. “It’s going to be very challenging to police the world but, what we can do is affect the properties of the fiber, so that it does no harm. This is part of our commitment to be Relentlessly Responsible.”

PrimaLoft is hoping to get the first gear made with the new PrimaLoft Bio materials in consumer’s hands by the fall season of 2020.

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