Threading the Needle: Composting to Colorants

EPA Grant Number: SU836765
Title: Threading the Needle: Composting to Colorants
Investigators: Sarkar, Ajoy K.
Institution: Fashion Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2016) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Chemical Safety


Demonstrate the potential for transforming fabric waste from any point in the supply chain--design, garment production or post-consumer textile waste--to create new raw material, in particular natural colorants, that can subsequently be used to reduce pollution at the manufacturing stage.


Textile waste accounts for six percent of the total generated municipal waste. Since population growth and consumption of textiles are intertwined, the problem of waste generation and disposal with consequent strain on the environment will intensify in the coming decades. Approaches to sustainability in the textile and clothing supply chain include measures to reduce pollution at the manufacturing stage as well as actions to reduce waste after consumer use. At the manufacturing stage, the potential of natural colorants to reduce pollution is an intriguing idea. On the other end, biodegradation or composting of textiles instead of disposing in landfills is a potential solution to the textile waste problem. This project proposes to "Thread the Needle" as in plot a route between the two seemingly disparate solutions; namely composting of textile waste and use of natural colorants for textiles. Specifically, this project will demonstrate the potential for transforming fabric waste to create new raw material, in particular natural colorants, that can subsequently be used to reduce pollution at the manufacturing stage.


Cotton muslin scrap will be biodegraded by the use of enzymes and vermicomposting techniques on the FIT campus in New York City. The cotton compost will be utilized as agriculture growth media to cultivate natural dye plants. Rate of germination, soil inputs, seedling growth rate and water usage will be monitored to see if the addition of composted cotton improves moisture retention and absorbency in treated soil compared to untreated soil. Lastly, the harvested and extracted natural colorants will be evaluated for color depth and colorfastness properties on cotton fabric thus completing the threading of the needle from compost to natural colorants.

Expected Results:

Through hands-on learning opportunities and incorporation of science, art, and design this project will help prepare students for further education and opportunities in "STE(A)M" fields - Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and their symbiotic relationship with Art. The project will further the goals of pollution control by diverting fabric waste from the landfill and transforming into a useful product, compost. In turn, fabric compost holds promise as a way to improve natural dye plant yields, and conserve water. Brochures will be developed and composting and natural dye garden demonstrations will be conducted with the aim of providing education about the concepts of sustainability unique to this project.

Supplemental Keywords:

waste to materials, cotton muslin, natural colorants, environmental education;

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report