From construction to crafting, the properties of raffia make it an attractive material for many different uses. Its durability mean it can be used for many years – but like all good things it does not last forever! With more people opting for ‘green’ items that can be disposed of in an eco-friendly way, how does it rate? Is raffia biodegradable and can it be composted?
What is raffia made from?
Raffia is derived from the Palmyra palm which can be found in different regions throughout the world – most famously in Madagascar. Segments of the extremely long palm leaves are processed to form the extremely dry raffia fiber. These fibers often have a straw-like quality but are much more long lasting than straw due to palm leaves waterproof resin.
Synthetic raffia is also available – this is made from the thermoplastic polypropylene (PP).
Is raffia biodegradable?
A material is biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally by micro-organisms such as bacteria. The item, essentially, returns to nature. Generally, in the right conditions, natural raffia will biodegrade in a matter of months. Although not ideal, if it were to end up in landfill it would biodegrade eventually – unlike many other materials.
Synthetic raffia, on the other hand, is not biodegradable. It will eventually break into smaller pieces but will never fully breakdown into its constituent parts. It may even outlive you! Turns out micro-organisms aren’t too fond of plastics.
Can raffia be composted?
Composting is a great way to dispose of day-to-day organic waste. It provides a nutrient-rich garden fertilizer, whilst diverting items from the ever-growing landfill piles. People often think that anything that is biodegradable will be suitable for the compost heap. Unfortunately, this is not the case – the terms are not interchangeable. Some items that are biodegradable cannot be composted as they do not ultimately contribute to a nutrient-rich fertilizer. Whilst others need to be avoided as they are laden with chemicals which will contaminate the pile.
Luckily, natural raffia can be composted. Composting materials fall into two categories: carbon-rich ‘browns’ and nitrogen-rich ‘greens’. Natural raffia is carbon-rich, making it a ‘brown’ ingredient. Knowing which category a composting item falls into is extremely important. To maintain a healthy pile, a suitable ‘green’ to ‘brown’ ratio must be achieved. There are various different ratios suggested by different sources. However, we find that a 1:1 ratio of ‘green’ to ‘brown’ works well. It keeps things simple and avoids any complicated math! Regularly checking the pile for smelly odors, dryness and suchlike will give you clues as to whether you are adding the right things. You can adjust accordingly as you go, trial-and-error.
If you are new to the composting world and want some basic questions answered, have a look here.
Things to consider when composting raffia…
You must decide whether a piece of raffia is synthetic or natural before adding it to the pile. Synthetic raffia, which is essentially plastic, will likely be in your pile for many, many years if added! A tell-tale sign of synthetic raffia is if the strand is uniform. The natural variety tends to be a bit more irregular in width. If you do not have the original packaging to check what it is made from, it is perhaps best to err on the side of caution and give composting a miss.
As with other composting items, it is generally good practice to cut the raffia into smaller pieces and spread it throughout the pile. Cutting an item into smaller pieces simply provides a larger surface area for the micro-organisms to act on. Not doing so is not the end of the world, it is not strictly necessary, but it will speed up the process.
The dyes in raffia must also be considered before adding to the compost pile. A rustic look is often created by using raffia in its natural form – but, as the photo above shows, it can also be dyed. Before you pop any colored raffia in the pile it is a good idea to check out what the dye is made from. Although generally tends to be safe, some dyes can be toxic and contaminate the pile.
The bottom line
Natural raffia is often complimented for its ‘green’ credentials. One of the reasons for this is its ability to be disposed on in a planet-friendly way. Natural raffia is biodegradable. It adds a carbon-rich element to the compost pile. Just make sure it is the natural variety though – the synthetic variety won’t biodegrade at all. Our advice? Stick to the natural stuff!