Rayon Unraveled: Fashion’s most confusing fiber has a dark past and a hopeful

R.Ayong is a soft, silky fabric that is perhaps the most confusing of all textiles. It tends to feel denser and more fluid than cotton or linen, but again it depends on the extraction and spinning method.

The best way to understand rayon is to think of it as an umbrella term for textiles made from cellulose, the building block of most plants. , mainly obtained from pine, eucalyptus, or beech wood pulp.

Because it is made from a natural, renewable material (wood), it is often marketed as an eco-friendly fiber. However, like many sustainable materials, there are some dark clouds over its reliability.

According to the nonprofit Canopy, 200 million trees are cut down each year to make textiles. Nearly half of his 6.5 million tons of rayon produced each year comes from ancient and endangered forests.

Forests are essential in the fight against global warming. This is because carbon is stored in the woody biomass of tree trunks and branches, the roots, shrubs and soil that make up the forest floor. Given the immense beauty of the forest and the plants, animals and birds that inhabit it, Rayon’s relationship to deforestation is a particularly sad truth and he’s one of fashion’s most disguised secrets.

Amanda Carr, senior lead for the CanopyStyle campaign, said the forest-based fabric supply chain has an opportunity to move investments toward solutions and away from problems. “We are kind of on the edge of a cliff, and we have a chance to build a fence at the top and a hospital at the bottom,” she said.

According to Canopy, 200 million trees are cut down each year to make textiles (beautiful in their own right). Photo: Getty Images

Hazardous waste turned river water dark red

Rayon production has nearly doubled over the past 30 years, and its share of the global textile market continues to grow (6.4% in 2019). Carr said Canopy is committed to ensuring this growth is not fueled by further deforestation. Their work is at least partially responsible for many fashion brands describing their rayon, viscose and modal products as having his FSC or PEFC certification.

Rayon’s carbon footprint is further complicated by the process of turning wood into fiber. Unlike cotton, wool and silk, which are smooth, stretchy and ready to be spun, processing wood into fabric is highly toxic to both workers and the environment.

Rayon is also linked with some of the world’s darkest histories. During World War II, the Nazis forced prisoners to work in rayon factories. There have been reports of the chemical (sulfuric acid) burning holes in uniforms and causing injuries where it touched the skin, and the release resulted in neurological side effects such as blindness and psychosis.

These problems continue well into the 21st century.2017 report by Changing market base found visible and highly foul-smelling contamination at a production site in India belonging to the Aditya Birla Group, the world’s largest viscose producer.

Toxic waste was turning the river water a dark red color. An independent laboratory test revealed that the air contained 125 times more carbon disulfide than his WHO-recommended levels. Surrounding villages lacked access to safe drinking water, and in one startling case, 60 villagers became seriously ill and lost the ability to walk. Aditya Birla Group has denied that these issues are related to its operations.

However, similar problems have been reported in other parts of China, India and Indonesia, and the problem is not limited to one company.

Changing Markets Foundation report makes viscose rayon production more sustainable with particular focus on air pollution, water pollution, solid waste disposal, energy sources, energy consumption and worker health and safety I made some recommendations on how to do it. The Foundation proposes implementing closed-loop manufacturing to recover and recycle as much waste from chemicals as possible, condense and capture exhaust emissions, and recover and reuse carbon disulfide emissions. Did.

By 2020 Aditya Birla Group has announced that it has set a goal to have all its manufacturing sites compliant with the EU BAT standard and verified by the end of 2022.

“The manufacturers responsible for 50% of the world’s viscose production are committed to responsible production,” said Kathleen Rademan, innovation platform director at Fashion for Good. She cites Spinnova and Infinited Fiber Company as examples of companies that have implemented best practice chemicals management. Lenzing, one of the world’s largest viscose producers, has trademarked Tencel, which is manufactured using a closed-loop process.

Art deco pattern for fabric.
Art deco pattern for fabric. The challenge is to make it more sustainable. Photo: MaryliaDesign/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The report concludes that viscose has the potential to become a sustainable fiber if production is improved. Along with responsible sourcing of raw materials.

Voluntary authentication is not enough

So what does responsibly sourced material look like? Certification, though imperfect, is an excellent tool for setting standards in different countries for responsible forest management. is widely considered. Most importantly, we guarantee traceability to ensure that the source of our rayon is not ancient or endangered forests.

Pointing to the fact that trees and forests are a vital aid against a warming planet, Kerr said Canopy’s priority is to procure viscose rayon in ancient or endangered forests. I say to make sure it doesn’t happen.

But she points out that accreditation is limited by scale. Each is applied from a local perspective, and often ecological considerations and planetary needs necessitate a more global or regional perspective. “This is not a plan that any certification applied by individual companies will achieve,” she says.

The next step is to find a sourcing solution to completely replace fiber from forests.

cotton ball
In theory, all natural fibers and even agricultural waste can be recycled into viscose rayon. Photo: Tetiana Garkusha/Getty Images/iStockphoto

turning old textiles into new ones

In theory, all natural fibers and even agricultural waste can be recycled into viscose rayon, as plant-based materials can serve as a source of cellulose, which can be dissolved to create fibres.

According to Textile Exchange, the market share of ‘recycled’ cellulose fibers is very small, but is expected to increase significantly in the coming years due to a lot of ongoing research and development. Recent advances in technology have made it possible to convert some textile waste into new materials.

Some fibers, such as cotton, have a high cellulose content, making this process much more efficient than processing wood. According to Canopy, it takes an average of 2.5 to 3 tons of wood to make 1 ton of viscose pulp, but only about 1 ton of recycled cotton or rayon to make 1 ton of viscose pulp. plug. Given this, rather than relying on virgin resources like wood, Rademan argues, “it would be better to try to add value to the resources we already have through fiber-to-fiber recycling.” It makes sense,” he said.

Given the amount of textile waste that is sent to landfills every second, the idea that old fibers can be turned into new ones with better performance characteristics than synthetics is very interesting. Good for It breathes against the skin and doesn’t have a complicated relationship with oil and sweat, making it more comfortable to wear.

We are in the early days of these solutions, with the extensive infrastructure required for collection, sorting and recycling, but there are already innovators working in this space. Lenzing’s Refibra line is made with approximately 30% recycled cotton.

Seattle-based company Evrnu launched a fabric called NuCycle made from recycled textile waste in April of this year. And he said in May that fast-fashion giant Inditex invested his €100 million in Infinite Fiber. Infinited Fiber is a Finnish start-up that makes fabrics from textile waste.

sundress cover.
Sundress. Photo: Black Co.

The dark and complex history of viscose rayon extends in many ways into the present, but it may have a bright future.

If we can eliminate trees and forests from our sourcing, replace them with textile waste, and further innovate in closed-loop, non-toxic production, viscose rayon will truly earn the eco-friendly reputation it has already been given. I can.

Rayon Unraveled: Fashion’s most confusing fiber has a dark past and a hopeful

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