Is felt biodegradable? Can it be composted? It depends!

  • Date: May 13, 2022

Felt is a popular material, partly due to how versatile it is. From roofing to clothing, it can find a use in pretty much an industry! However, despite being extremely durable it won’t last forever – unfortunately it will come to the end of its usable life at some point. Although reusing in some way is always favored, does it have the ability to biodegrade in the right conditions? Or will it hang around forever? Let’s have a look…

What is felt made of?

To determine if an item is biodegradable, we firstly need to know what it is made from. Felt is one of the oldest-known materials out there, although its composition has changed over the years.

Felt is a dense fabric made from the compression and matting of fibers. These days felt can either be made from natural fibers (e.g.  wool) or synthetic fibers (e.g. acrylic or polyester). They are sometimes a blend of both.

Is felt biodegradable?

Biodegradable items can be broken down into their component parts by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Felt that is made from natural sources such as wool or cotton are biodegradable – they came from nature, and they can return to nature. Natural felts tend to biodegrade in a matter of months, depending on conditions. In landfill it can take A LOT longer due to the conditions not being ideal for biodegradation – airflow is restricted and there is not a suitable supply of water and nutrients.      

Synthetic felt, on the other hand, will not biodegrade at all. Acrylic and polyester are plastics and can take several hundred years to break down. And even then, they only break into smaller and smaller pieces rather than biodegrading with the help of microbes.

Is felt compostable?

Composting is a great way to dispose of organic waste items. It provides a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden – for free! It is a common misconception, however, that all biodegradable items can be composed. For an item to be compostable it must not, for example, contaminate the compost heap in any way – items laden with some chemicals are a big ‘no’. As long it does not contaminate to the pile and can contribute to a nutrient-rich end product it is, generally, good to go.

Natural felt is compostable and, as you would expect, synthetic felt isn’t! Composting ingredients falls into two main categories: carbon-rich (‘browns’) and nitrogen-rich (‘greens’). Natural felt, along with other natural fibers such as hemp and cotton, are carbon-rich. Ensuring you have a decent mix of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ is vital to the health of your pile. As with all composting, a bit of trial-and-error is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor and adjust as you go.  

If you take the correct steps to make sure your compost pile is healthy, you should find composting natural felt straightforward. If you are new to composting, we have answered some of the most common newbie questions here to help you on your way.

Things to consider when composing felt…

Rule number one is making sure that the felt is natural rather than containing synthetic fibers. If you have the original packaging of the felt item, this should tell you. If not, you can often tell by the texture – natural felt tends to be quite smooth, whereas synthetic felt feels a bit rough in comparison. If a bit synthetic felt is added by mistake, it isn’t a crisis. When you notice it has been hanging around in the pile a little bit too long simply remove it.

You should also cut the piece of felt into small pieces. Although not absolutely essential, it does speed up the process a bit. But either way, you won’t be waiting long to see the results. Smaller pieces can be spread evenly throughout the pile whilst giving microbes a slightly larger surface area to work on. 

If you are aware of any harmful dyes on the felt – or added any toxic substances to it when crafting – don’t add it. This will contaminate the pile and, ultimately, end up in your garden. As with all composting, if you have any doubts about the safety of what you are adding, err on the side of caution.

The bottom line

Diverting waste from landfill is an easy way we can reduce our impact on the environment. And composting is a great way to do this – saving you money on shop-bought fertilizers and kinder to nature too. Natural felt is biodegradable and a great carbon-rich addition to the compost pile. Synthetic felt, unfortunately, can’t be added to the pile – it would most likely outlive you in there!