Is Felt Biodegradable and is it Eco-Friendly?

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Felt is a widely used material that is often used to make hats, blankets, and clothing. It is also a popular material for crafts and artwork. It's cheap to buy, readily available, and easy to work with.

But there are many questions surrounding felt, specifically whether it is environmentally friendly, renewable, and biodegradable.

The answer depends on the type of felt being considered.

  • Wool felt, made from natural fibers, is biodegradable.
  • Synthetic felt, made from synthetic materials, is not biodegradable.
  • Mixed felt is made from a combination of natural and synthetic materials, and is not biodegradable.

Today we examine the environmental impact and ethical considerations surrounding both types of felt.

How Is Felt Made?

Felt is a fabric that is made from wool, hair, or other fibers that are matted, compressed, and pressed together. It can be made by hand or machine and is created by matting, condensing, and pressing fibers together.

Unspun fibers of wool or fur are the most commonly used materials to make felt, although other fibers like cotton, linen, and silk can also be used.

making natural wool felt by hand

There are two main methods of making felt: wet felting and dry felting.

The wet felting process involves combining the fibers with water and soap, then agitating them until they tangle together and form a mat.

Dry felting uses barbed needles to work the fibers together until they mat.

Once the felt is formed, it can be cut into shapes, sewn, or otherwise worked into a variety of different items like clothing, hats, furniture, or toys.

Is Felt a Natural Fiber?

Felt does not exist naturally, as it requires human intervention to apply the pressure, moisture, and heat required in the felt production process.

But since felt can be made from either synthetic or natural fibers, then some types of felt can be considered to be wholly natural.

Natural felt is made from wool fibers or animal fur. As long as the wool or fur is organically produced, and has not been treated with any chemicals, then it can be considered a natural fiber.

High-quality natural felts - specifically those made from the wool of merino sheep - can often be found in sustainable clothing.

It can also have other uses, such as the backing for eco-friendly inflatable beds.

Synthetic felt is made from synthetic fibers such as polyester or acrylic. This is entirely man-made and therefore not natural.

Is Felt Biodegradable?

While felt is often thought of as being biodegradable, the truth is that it depends on the type of felt and the environment in which it is disposed of. Wool felt will biodegrade in moist conditions, but synthetic felt made from plastic fibers is not.

Natural felt is made from 100% wool fibers. Wool felt is a completely biodegradable material, providing it has not been subjected to any sort of chemical treatment.

Some wool felt may contain a trace amount of dye from the pink or blue dots that are sprayed onto sheep wool to mark them. However, this should not prevent its ability to biodegrade.

However, other types of felt may be made from synthetic fibers such as recycled plastic, polyester, nylon, or acrylic. These synthetic fibers will not break down naturally and therefore are not biodegradable.

Is Felt Recyclable?

Yes, felt can be recycled. Typically it is shredded and broken down to be made into other materials - or into more felt!

Your local recycling center will usually be able to accept felt, along with various other recyclable textiles.

However, before you decide to recycle felt, consider whether you can reuse it first.

Felt is quite a versatile material and even if it is worn or marked, it can have many uses in domestic DIY or craft projects.

For example, why not combine it with some used ceramic tiles to make your own drinks coasters? I'm sure you can think of hundreds of other uses around your own home.

Always remember that while it is far better than throwing things away, recycling does use up energy in itself, and living zero waste means always trying to reuse what we have whenever possible.

Is Felt Renewable?

Yes, natural wool felt can be considered a sustainable material. Wool felt is a natural product and since sheep can continue to produce more wool indefinitely, it is certainly renewable.

Synthetic felt is derived from petroleum-based substances and is therefore not a renewable resource.

We all know by now that we need to cut out our use of fossil fuels entirely, and knowing what materials contain them is an important first step.

Does Felt Contain Plastic?

Again, the answer depends on the type of felt. But yes, synthetic felt will almost certainly contain plastic. This is why it is not biodegradable or sustainable.

It is usually made from nylon (which is a plastic-based fiber), acrylic, or recycled plastic PET #1 post-consumer plastic.

Buying felt that is made from natural fibers which have been organically produced is the only way you can be certain that the product does not contain any plastic.

Is Felt Environmentally Friendly?

Renewable wool felt has a very low environmental impact, and can be considered eco-friendly. However, this is not the same as zero impact.

Some environmentalists argue that sheep themselves have an impact on the environment, especially if they are bred specifically for the purpose of producing wool.

If we end up having "extra" sheep than would exist naturally, then the animals themselves emit co2 and produce an extra strain on the environment and water resources.

However, if we consider felt made from the wool of sheep that would exist anyway, then it is fair to say it is environmentally friendly.

Synthetic felt is not eco-friendly. Not only is it made from fossil fuels, but it is also often treated with toxic chemicals like flame retardants and preservatives.

Is Felt Ethical?

To obtain the raw wool needed to make natural felt, animals must first be sheared or their fur must be removed.

Although no animals are killed in the process of making felt, some people believe that the shearing and matting may cause them distress. As a result, they argue that felt is not an ethical choice for clothing or other products.

They also point out that there are other materials that can be used to make felt, such as recycled plastics.

However, some people argue that using recycled materials would require more energy and resources than using natural fur.

In the end, whether or not felt is ethical is a personal decision.

The Final Word

So, what’s the verdict? Is wool felt biodegradable and eco-friendly? The answer is a definite yes! Wool felt is made of natural materials that can be easily decomposed.

In contrast, synthetic felt is not eco-friendly. It is made of non-biodegradable materials and while it can be recycled, it should not be composted.

If you want to go green with your next clothing purchase or home crafting project, choose wool felt over synthetic felt every time.

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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