Is rayon biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

It’s silk-like quality makes rayon a popular material for both fashion and home furnishings. It is soft, breathable and drapes well, making it a great addition to any wardrobe or home. However, like all good things, rayon won’t last forever – in fact, it isn’t the most durable of materials out there. Although we always recommend passing your garment or household item on to someone else for reuse, we know that this is not always possible. What are the alternatives? Is rayon biodegradable and can you add it to the compost pile?   

Firstly, what is rayon?

Rayon is a type of manmade cellulosic fiber – it is made from cellulose that is, primarily, derived from plants. Although rayon comes from a natural source, it is not categorized as fully natural – it is actually regarded as a semi-synthetic material due to the production process being heavy in chemicals. There are three main types of rayon: cupro, lyocell and viscose. The main difference between them is their manufacturing process – they are all produced using different chemicals.

So, is rayon biodegradable?

If something is said to be biodegradable, it has the ability to be broken down by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Despite being regarded as a semi-synthetic material, rayon can still biodegrade. In fact, a study in 2010 showed that rayon actually biodegraded quicker than cotton.

As with all biodegradable items, optimal conditions are key to the process. Many people think that landfill is like a massive compost pile – unfortunately this is not the case. Poor airflow and suboptimal moisture make the breakdown process in landfill a lot slower than breakdown figures quoted. Keep this in mind when you throw a biodegradable item in the trash – it may still be around for a long, long time!

Can rayon be composted?

Composting is a great way to divert organic waste items from landfill. As well as being kinder to the planet, you will also provide you with some homemade nutrient-rich fertilizer to use in your garden. What’s not to like?! However, just because rayon is biodegradable does not necessarily mean it can be composted. Many people think that the terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are interchangeable, but this is not the case. Generally, if an item is not laden with chemicals and it can contribute to a nutrient-rich final product it can be thrown in the compost pile – thankfully, rayon fits the bill.

Composting ingredients falls into two main categories: carbon-rich ‘browns’ (such as twigs and cardboard) and nitrogen-rich ‘greens’ (such as freshly cut grass). Rayon falls into the carbon-rich/’browns’ category. Ensuring you have an adequate mix of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ is vital to ensure a healthy compost 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 it and adjust as you go.

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

Some considerations when composting rayon….

As mentioned previously, rayon is treated heavily with chemicals. These can potentially contaminate the compost pile and, ultimately, the final fertilizer product. It can still be composted – but it is perhaps best to err on the side of caution. We recommend that you only use the fertilizer on non-edible plants. However, it also depends largely on how much fabric you are composting – if only a small piece is being added to large compost pile, this effect would be miniscule. Your call!

Rayon is often blended with other materials. Before you throw your item into the compost pile it is important to know if it the rayon is blended and, if so, what with. If it is mixed with a synthetic material such as polyester it will not biodegrade. On the other hand, if it is mixed with a natural material such as cotton it can be added.

As with composting any material, it is a good idea to cut it into small pieces before adding. It is not absolutely essential, but it will certainly speed up the process. It allows the pieces to be mixed throughout the pile and gives the micro-organisms a larger surface area to work on.

The bottom line

Finding ways to divert our fashion waste from landfill is a great way to cut down on our environmental impact. Composting can be a great way to do this – whilst saving you money on shop-bought fertilizer too. Rayon fabric (not blended with synthetics, of course) is biodegradable and provides a wonderful carbon-rich ingredient to your pile. Give it a go!