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Holes in clothing, caused by moths | Photo source chiaratommencionipisapia.com

Moths used to help recycle clothing

Fashion & Beauty

A designer's Made by Moths project uses moths to break down natural fibres in discarded clothing.

Spotted: London-based designer, Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia, has proposed using moths to break down natural fibres in discarded clothing. Pisapia, who has a strong interest “in sustainability-related to fashion, textile recycling, bio-design and the circular economy,” developed the Made by Moths project during her MA Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins.

Mixed-fibre textiles are difficult to recycle, due to their mixture of manmade and natural fibres, which means that often chemical and mechanical methods are employed. As moths can feed on the fibrous protein keratin contained in animal fibres, Pisapia suggests that they could be used to remove the animal fibres from clothes, ensuring the synthetic fibres left behind are recycled separately and the process made more sustainable. 

Pisapia and experts from the Center for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York set about farming the moths’ larvae and using them to digest the keratin-based fibres. The waste produced by the larvae is biodegradable and thus gives back to the environment in the process. Pisapea has recently come up with the idea of recycling the material further — by transforming the bio-waste into jewellery. 

However, the process was discovered to be inefficient, due to the length of time the moths’ larvae took to break down the fibres. Pisapia and collaborators at CNAP are currently working on a method of extracting the digestive enzymes of the larvae and reproducing them as bacteria, which would break down the fibre more efficiently. Pisapia is hoping to secure funding for further research, which would take the process out of the lab and potentially produced on an industrial scale. 

Springwise has covered many innovations aiming to help to make the fashion and textiles industry more environmentally friendly, such as a biodegradable textile grown from live organisms. 

Email: chiaratp@icloud.com

Website: chiaratommencionipisapia.com

Contact: chiaratommencionipisapia.com/about

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