Jeans may seem basic, and especially natural, but denim clothes are a major source of landfill waste, water use and pollution. In fact, the entire clothing industry has a notorious waste problem. Americans throw 32 billion pounds of textiles in the trash every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At the same time, a small group of denim makers is working to change that. The Swiss brand Freitag, for example, announced a few years ago that they were making the world’s first 100% “compostable jean.”

Compostable? Biodegradable? Is there a difference? Yes, in fact, there is. Biodegradable means simply that given enough time with nature – a few years, a hundred years, a thousand years because there’s no strict definition – a material will break down. Compostables, on the other hand, are biodegradable, but also degrade more quickly and release nutrients into the soil.

The folks at Freitag make their jeans compostable by eliminating polyester trims, nylon threads, Lycra blends and rivets, and using instead only fibers like hemp and linen. Instead of plastic buttons, they use tagua nut. The main closing button remained a challenge though, because they needed something tough and eventually settled on a metal button that can be removed before the pants are discarded or recycled. Freitag says that if their denim is tossed into a compost pile, it will safely degrade completely in a few months without leaving toxic chemicals behind.

Source Denim in Los Angeles also makes 100% cotton biodegradable jeans and advises consumers to send their clothes back to the company for free repairs or when they no longer want to wear them, as Source will recycle pieces. The company found that using biodegradable denim also reduced its water use by 60%, chemical use by 50% and carbon emissions by 40%.

Learn more about apparel industry efforts here.