Is Viscose Sustainable?

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 weeks ago | Features

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Cellulose fabrics are commonly used by both sustainable brands and those purporting to be sustainable. But what exactly is viscose – and is it really more sustainable?

In short, cellulose fabrics are plant-based fabrics. These fibres are made with ethers or esters of cellulose, obtained from the bark, wood or leaves of plants. You might know them as fabrics like Modal, Tencel and, yes, viscose.

Viscose, in particular, is one of fashion’s favourite plant-based fabrics. According to Textile Today, viscose is the third most commonly used textile fibre in the world. But unfortunately, not all viscose is created equal.

If made in a closed loop production process, then viscose can be incredibly sustainable. Modal, for example, is a cellulose fabric that’s made in a closed loop system by Lenzing. A semi-synthetic cellulose fibre, Modal is made by spinning reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. 

According to Lenzing, it is produced using the Edelweiss "symbiotic" production process. Which means the raw material (pulp) is processed at the same site as the Modal fibre itself, allowing Lenzing to minimise its use of energy and other resources.

The problem with cellulose fibres is that they require energy, water and chemically-intensive production process. According to Good On You, the plant material must be “dissolved in a chemical solution to produce a pulpy viscous substance, which is then spun into fibres that can then be made into threads.” Which is why it’s so important that this chemical process happens in a closed loop system.

The type of trees (and how they are forested) is equally critical. Modal uses beech trees, for example, which multiply by ‘rejuvenation. Beech trees propagate by themselves and don’t require artificial irrigation or planting. In addition, Lenzing only uses wood from forests that apply prevailing forestry legislation and sustainability methods.

When grown using sustainable harvesting methods and processed in a closed loop system, then, viscose can be a great sustainable option. But this is not always the case, which is why it’s important to ask brands how their viscose is really made.

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