Viscose, touted as a sustainable alternative to cotton or polyester, is often used as a cheaper and more durable alternative to silk, commonly in skirts and dresses. Branding by Idil Berken. And there are two major reasons why: Rayon was invented over 150 years ago, and was widely commercially produced starting in the 1920s. It’s biodegradable, too! Photo Credit: REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir. It’s biodegradable, too! Viscose is the same thing as rayon. This post originally appeared on Tortoise and Lady Grey, a fashion and lifestyle blog which aims to promote ethical and sustainable wardrobe choices, and inspire readers to embrace a slow fashion lifestyle.. Polyester is cheap and versatile and for that reason it has become ubiquitous in fashion, but the environmental impacts of polyester are also significant. Don’t forget, natural cotton may have a much bigger physical footprint than viscose. See if viscose textiles are good or bad for the environment; is a natural or synthetic/manmade fiber, … Tencel (a branded type of lyocell) is the type of rayon that is the most eco-friendly. 70 million trees from Indonesia, Canada, and Brazil, The way it’s made (often with toxic chemicals), and…. Just kidding! VISCOSE’S IMPACT ON LIFESTYLE: Durability: Versatility: soft and absorbent fabric, feels supple and soft Affordability: Viscose is . They’re part of large rayon brands, and provide fabric directly to Levi’s, ASOS, Zara, United Colors of Benetton, H&M, and Eileen Fisher. That is why these fibers are often marketed as eco-friendly. Along with making the air and water toxic for humans, viscose production also encourages rapid deforestation across the planet. The whole concept of rayon viscose seems deliberately designed to confuse consumers so much that we just give up and stop caring. So far, it’s a strategy that has worked. Polyester fabric hasn’t been around forever. Viscose comes from trees, but it is not as environmentally as other types of rayon, such as modal, because the production process uses high concentrations of chemicals. "No," I reassure at this point. Just keep in mind, Tencel has a certain feel and look, and can’t replace all of viscose rayon’s uses. And while this material is natural, the process of making it into fibers involves a lot of toxic chemicals, therefore it is in its own subcategory of being a semi-synthetic fibre. These aren’t rogue factories. Palm oil, if you don’t know, is an extremely destructive food and beauty ingredient. It actually might be worse for the environment. Cotton, flaxseed, and hemp are already a fairly soft, fibrous plants – they have to be minimally ginned and woven before being sewn into garments, and are considered natural fibers. In China, there’s abundant evidence of rayon production is poisoning workers and the local bodies of water, even turning a lake black. If these companies pull through, that will make 80% of all rayon fabrics rainforest-free. Soft and lightweight, viscose fabric is a fixture of many wardrobes and homes and has been in use since the late 1800s. See lifestyle benefits and risks; whether viscose fabric is good or bad for affordability, durability and versatility. And that’s inside the factory. But global NGOs and other countries are pushing hard for higher standards and there are Chinese manufactures that follow suit. They’re both in the conceptual stage, but will be tested over the next year or so. Rayon (viscose) This is another artificial fibre, made from wood pulp, which on the face of it seems more sustainable. Far from being an eco-friendly material, wool is a nightmare for the living planet. If a brand wants to get an environmentally benign fabric, viscose can be produced with the Lyocell process. Rainforests are being burned and cleared in Indonesia and elsewhere in order to plant palm oil plantations. And now that is also happening because of rayon. The silver lining is that contemporary technologies and production standards allow for better carbon disulfide management. In India, a plant is dumping into a tributary to the Ganges, poisoning local families, causing the mental faculties of children to degenerate before they reach their teens. Another important thing is where and how the raw material is obtained. Due to this, viscose fabric can mimic the texture and softness of natural materials such as cotton, silk, linen, or even wool. Tencel, a trademarked fabric also by Lenzing, is a type of rayon generically called lyocell. But the truth is that they can be harmful to the environment, eco-systems, and human health. When I visited the Green Eileen pop-up (now Fisher Found) the old viscose shirts and pants that came back in through donations had held up remarkably well, and were easy to upcycle into new garments. Two recipients of H&M’s Changemakers award are trying to turn waste products that have cellulose in them – cow manure and grape leaves – into textiles. Our grandparents were clothed in natural materials such as wool, linen and cotton and in fact, by the end of World World II, the latter accounted for over 80% of fibre consumed.With chemical advances in the Is it better for the environment compared to other man-made fabrics? If a fibre is manufactured, then it is made from cellulose or protein. To achieve this, manufacturers adhere to ethical and Fair-trade production standards. This sounds great, but what is viscose? Are you going to try to avoid it in the future? (A more accurate term would be to call them manmade cellulosic fibers.) On a side note, cotton production usually requires a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, as well as water. That’s according to a recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study completed by SCS Global Services on behalf of Stella McCartney, focusing on the production of viscose fiber. Modal‘s production isn’t as toxic but can still lead to deforestation. There’s no way to know as a consumer where your modal clothing is coming from – Asia or North America. First, let’s talk about cellulosic fibers. But I’m here to try to clear this up for you. In Indonesia, endangered animals and native people are being forced off the land, so that the local pulp mills can be steadily supplied with trees. These rugs are blends of “regenerative cellulose” (wood pulp fibers and cotton by products) and chemicals. One fabric that is often marketed as inherently eco-friendly is bamboo, because it grows quickly without use of pesticides or herbicides. But rayon (also known as viscose – they are the same thing and are used interchangeably) is not a natural fiber. Wikimedia. Polyvinyl chloride – PVC – is the most toxic plastic for our health and it’s not so good for the environment either. We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. Then there is a waiting period to properly age the pulp and depolymerization occurs during the pulp ripening stage. The work environment needs to be friendly to those who are part of the production. That part may be 'green,' but the chemical used to make the viscose isn’t. And tragically, the typical process for dissolving pulp for rayon wastes about 70% of the tree! That’s what is happening in Asia, according to a report that came out on Tuesday by the Changing Markets Foundation. The solution is viscose, which means it oozes rather than flows, hence the name of the material. It’s important to think beyond just your own purchasing decisions, to consider how you can help change the system so that sustainability isn’t the elitist choice, but the default. Polyvinyl Chloride, more commonly known as PVC or just vinyl, has been in widespread usage since the early-mid 20th century. VISCOSE’S IMPACT ON ENVIRONMENT: Fiber source: manufactured from wood pulp and treated with chemicals Biodegradable: Destruction: Sustainability: Viscose is It’s so unstable that it can even cause an explosion while the item is being made. Cheap polyester is probably the biggest offender when it comes to the high environmental cost of fashion. Viscose is a fabric made from natural fibers manufactured with renewable resources. But according to the nonprofit Canopy, modal has been linked to deforestation, and there are other suppliers of modal besides Lenzing that are pulping rainforests to manufacture it. What is cellulose? To put things in perspective, modal is one of the rayon iterations that received a lot of bad press because manufacturers used unsustainable raw materials. There’s also modal, a type of rayon. According to the Higg Index, silk has by far the worst impact on the environment of any textile, including polyester, viscose/rayon, and lyocell. There’s a fabric for that. Eileen Fisher has reduced its use of rayon and does offer some Tencel products, but still relies on viscose for a lot of its clothing. The report says many fashion brands refused to disclose their supply chain at all to Changing Markets Foundation. The login page will open in a new tab. Just kidding! Tencel is silky soft and absorbent, and is produced using a different chemical – amine oxide – that is purported to be safer in an entirely closed loop process, so that the chemical isn’t discharged into the water. What about the toxicity of rayon production? First and foremost, factories need to make sure there’s no way a worker could come in contact with any of the toxic materials. Neither do we think of its origin nor its manufacturing and the toxic load on our body and in the environment. Tencel use isn’t confined to expressly sustainable fashion brands. Modal, that non-toxic viscose/rayon fabric, is made from different types of softwood, which is great if it’s sourced from well-managed European or North American forests. The following sections aim to provide answers to these questions to help you make a more educated sustainable fashion selection. There is also some interesting innovation in the works to shift the raw material away from forests altogether. Once you have a factory dumping these chemicals into the waterway, the whole community can be poisoned. Surprisingly, despite being obtained from a natural source, the fabric of viscose actually contributes to polluting and harming the environment. Please log in again. ENVIRONMENT. Fast-growing eucalyptus tree varieties are native to almost every continent and climate, and require less land and – often on land that couldn’t otherwise be farmed – than the equivalent amount of cotton. There is no way to recycle the chemicals that end up in the soil or the plant as it grows in the fields. Because it readily absorbs water and body oils, this could be a problem and lead to discoloring and marking, making it dirtier and weaker. There have been environmental concerns associated with viscose, but generally that’s the case with every fabric (both natural and man-made), and today the processes involved with most modern ‘versions’ tend to be considered eco-friendly. Lenzing bills their trademarked Lenzing Modal as a more eco-friendly and softer version of rayon, because it uses closed-loop processing that doesn’t output toxins into the environment and sources beechwood from nearby the factory. However, like any other fabric, viscose isn’t without its disadvantages. Eco-friendly sustainable production is not only about keeping pollutants from water, air, and soil. It is a type of rayon since it usually comes from agricultural products and wood. (Lenzing is rather vague on this point, though apparently Lenzing as a whole has the Pan-European Forest Certification.) Let’s pass on this one. Unlike, viscose rayon where chemicals build up with no place to go, the modal system reuses all the chemicals again and again. Neither does eucalyptus require pesticides and herbicides. Other manmade fabrics to avoid include modal, tencel, loycell, viscose and most types of bamboo. "Does that mean viscose isn’t safe to wear? Anyway, the workers who are involved in the process are important as well. "It’s only the workers who make it that suffer, and maybe the surrounding environment." Being one of the most popular man-made materials, viscose has been one of the main staples of the fashion industry. Rayon (Viscose) ©, © As this is an ongoing process, viscose and other textile manufacturers may undergo an audit to determine they follow the rules to the T. That said, China has a more than 60% market share in viscose production and the country has been notorious for its contribution to global pollution. In addition, there are filters and recycling facilities that purify most of the chemicals. Email your favorite brand who uses rayon viscose and ask them what they are doing to phase it out or clean up their supply chain. Despite some of the production challenges, there is no need to question if viscose impacts the environment. Once the solution is obtained, virgin viscose goes into a spinneret and into a sulphuric acid bath to regenerate fine cellulose filaments. almost always needs to be dry cleaned. If you were to inspect the fabric, viscose is produced from purified cellulose. Bamboo rayon is most commonly made through what is known as the viscose process, which involves dissolving cellulose material (in this case, bamboo) in a chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous substance. For the most part, viscose has been immune to this, but it doesn’t mean suppliers should go out and cut forests to make viscose. I’d better go through my wardrobe!" The environmental impact of wool. Rayon is a fiber that is made from cellulose … In addition to health and safety, a truly environmentally-friendly viscose is produced without worker exploitation. August 31, 2020 December 30, 2018 by Better Meets Reality Viscose can be a broadly used term, so, it makes sense that you might be unsure of what viscose is and the impact it has on the environment and on sustainability. As a rule, bamboo or cotton pulp undergoes special processing to obtain the material. Viscose is cheap to produce and is a versatile fabric used for clothing items such as blouses, dresses, … Aside from Fair-trade, these are the standards/labels to look for. It is superior to synthetic materials because it comes from a natural source. So far, the article has established that viscose can be superior to other man-made made textiles and even some natural fibers. Viscose: Pollution Concerns Being the first chemical introduced into the mix, caustic soda can be dangerous for the environment . Cellulosic fiber is an umbrella term for anything made from plants, which includes cotton, linen (flax seed), hemp, rayon (a.k.a. First, it’s … The environmental impacts of polyester are significant. But I went through my favorite retail stores and brands to pick out some beautiful and sustainable Tencel pieces. In the rug industry, this is presented as Viscose, Bamboo Silk, Banana Silk, Rayon or “Art” Silk. I’ve heard from someone who was on the social responsibility team at a large fashion company that those emails get forwarded to them, and they use them to present their case for sustainability to the executive team. As you can see, quite a few chemicals are used during the production process. Viscose and Viscose Rayon is *Vegan. In this guide, we look at whether Viscose is eco friendly or sustainable for use in products like clothing, fabric and textiles. This report, however, is a bit unfair, because these links were established mostly through the brands’ voluntary disclosure of their supply chain. It means none of the chemicals leave the factory and if they do, the discharge needs to be 100% save for the environment. Not only is the production of this textile toxic for the environment, it makes … All Rights Reserved. Residents are passionate about protecting the environment and like to do things their own way. After logging in you can close it and return to this page. It’s a toxic chemical called carbon disulfide." You’ll easily find it in all sorts of fashion. This happens during the xanthate decomposition and the raw material is then purified to get the filament or fabric. While it does come with its own benefits, consumers may be concerned about both its limitations, as well as its impact on the environment. To explain, the chemicals are captured at the end of the production cycle and then reused for the next batch. The real cost of your clothes: These are the fabrics with the best and worst environmental impact. Lenzing manufactures more cellulosic fiber from trees than any other company in the world and has been producing rayon/viscose, the … And there are two major reasons why: More than 70 million trees from Indonesia, Canada, and Brazil are logged every year and turned into cellulosic fabric. In Indonesia, rayon factory workers have been found washing the chemicals off of rayon textiles right in the river. They adopted the goals of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002 and passed the country's first CO2 tax in 2006. See whether animals are killed, harmed or indirectly impacted. Being the first chemical introduced into the mix, caustic soda can be dangerous for the environment. Without going into all the technicalities, this chemical may cause a pH effect which can be toxic for underwater organisms such as fish. Instead of carbon disulfide, Lyocell utilizes N-methylmorpholine N-oxide because it helps minimize waste and it’s more gentle onto the environment. This is one of the issues closed-cycle production deals with, at least in developed countries. (Rayon has been washed multiple times and is safe by the time it reaches consumers.). Rayon is a generic term for fabrics that are made from plants that you could never imagine as soft, silky fabric: bamboo and trees. Rayon is made from plants, but it’s not eco-friendly because of its toxic production and the deforestation associated with it. If you’ve decided to swear off polyester because it’s a petroleum product, you might be pleased to know that you can buy clothing made with rayon viscose, a high-performance fabric that is made of a natural, renewable resource: plants. The FTC has fined Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond, Backcountry, J.C. Penney , Amazon, Macy’s, Kmart, Sears and more for labeling rayon made from bamboo as simply bamboo fabric. There are different grades and types of viscose as per its functional properties. These tough plant materials are broken down through a chemical and mechanical process involving sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide into a viscous (ah, that’s where that name viscose came from) liquid, that is then spun into threads using sulfuric acid. And it’s worth noting that Fair-trade is one of the most comprehensive certificates that encompasses all production aspects. It actually might be worse for the environment. viscose), and lyocell. And because of the high concentration of the rayon industry – 75% of it is dominated by 10 companies– you can be almost positive that any conventional brand you can think of sources their rayon from the same dirty factories. This is then pushed through a spinneret, and “spun” into the fibres that can then be made into threads and fabrics. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with it. Estimates show that the revenue from viscose production is going to exceed the $15,100 million mark by 2023. If you care enough to purchase Tencel instead of other semi-synthetic fibers, then you should also: © 2020 Ecocult. And as long as the producers follow the rules you get a 100% biodegradable item. It’s true many of these fibers can be considered natural, they are made from wood and grass. This is the category that holds the majority of the skin-harming culprits. It’s also why there are no rayon producers in the U.S. It’s (almost always, more on this later) too toxic to comply with the EPA’s standards – workers are at high risk of insanity, nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke. Eileen Fisher has used it for years. It is a low-cost fabric that serves as a great alternative for the very-expensive silk and chemically resembles cotton. Cellulose xanthate is actually a yellowish crumb that appears on the surface and manufacturers use caustic soda to dissolve it.
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