Let’s examine the information to learn more about rayon and viscose and then make a determination about whether viscose is sustainable.
One of the most widely used materials in the fashion industry is viscose. To give the raw plant-based materials silk-like qualities, conventional manufacturers put them through energy and chemically-intensive processes. So, is viscose a fabric that is sustainable?
Viscose is not poisonous or noxious by nature because it is a plant-based fiber. But due to the expanding fast fashion market, a large portion of the viscose sold today is produced at low cost through energy, water, and chemical-intensive processes that have a terrible effect on the environment, local communities, and workers.
You should be aware of the following.
Is Viscose a Sustainable Fabric?
Since viscose is made from plants, we frequently claim that it must be sustainable. Although the fabric appears to be environmentally friendly and no animals were harmed, is viscose a sustainable fabric?
In the truest sense of the word, viscose is a fabric that has been produced as an alternative to the labor-intensive and expensive process of making silk. As mentioned above, wood pulp is typically the starting point for the production of viscose, to which a number of chemicals are added to create the fiber.
When using harsh chemicals, is that sustainable? is a question that might be asked at this point. I understand your concern because even though the fabric itself comes from a naturally sustainable source it is blended with harsh chemicals…
One could argue that viscose is still a better option than other synthetic fibers, like polyester, despite the fact that this process is not sustainable and that I wouldn’t suggest it as a fabric for clothing.
More and more viscose is produced using the Lyocell method. Compared to other fashion industry techniques, this one generates less waste, making it more environmentally friendly.
Additionally, consumers are beginning to demand greater accountability from producers, and in the near future, viscose manufacturing processes may be more environmentally friendly!
We’re crossing our fingers that more environmentally friendly production techniques will be used in the future because the fabric is durable and great to work with. In comparison to many other synthetic fabrics, it is more sustainable in this way.
How Sustainable is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Viscose Fabrics?
Because viscose fabrics are made from renewable wood or wood-like material, the sourcing process is typically sustainable. Fast-growing trees and plants like eucalyptus, bamboo, or soy are the primary sources of cellulose fibers used to make viscose.
Concerns exist, though, regarding the connection between the extraction of raw materials for viscose textiles and the destruction of ancient and endangered forests.
How Sustainable is the Manufacturing of Viscose Fabrics?
Viscose fabric production requires a significant amount of energy and chemicals, which could have negative environmental effects, particularly if fossil fuels are used as the primary energy source at the manufacturing sites.
However, while optimizing materials, integrated manufacturing processes can recover some of the energy used during production. In this situation, it is possible to create viscose fabrics in a more environmentally friendly manner.
How Sustainable is the Transportation of Viscose Fabrics?
Due to the emissions produced by shipping and receiving goods in vehicles, transportation can be a carbon-intensive phase in the life cycle of items made of viscose fabrics.
Viscose fabrics typically travel from forests, where the raw materials for viscose are grown, to processing factories, then sorting centers, retail outlets, and consumer homes, before going to recycling facilities or landfills.
In the life-cycle of viscose clothes, transportation typically occurs as below:
- From forests where viscose raw materials are grown to the viscose fiber manufacturing locations
- From the viscose fabrics manufacturing location to the clothing manufacturing location
- From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops
- From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house
- From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing
Growing, processing, sewing, and selling viscose raw materials in a single city, nation, or even continent is extremely uncommon. Viscose fabrics are more frequently transported over great distances and using a variety of vehicles.
How Sustainable is the Usage of Viscose Fabrics?
Because viscose clothing isn’t very durable, viscose fabric use is typically not very sustainable. The original purpose of viscose was to replace silk with a more resilient (and less expensive) fabric. It does not, however, typically last as long as materials like cotton.
Generally speaking, clothing that lasts a long time is more environmentally friendly because it requires fewer resources to produce because you don’t need to replace it as frequently.
Viscose fabric has the benefit of being breathable, which means that it typically doesn’t smell too quickly. Viscose clothing can therefore be washed less frequently, saving water and energy. See How to Wash Viscose Fabric Properly.
How Sustainable is the End-of-Life of Viscose Fabrics?
Because viscose fabric is reusable, biodegradable, and compostable, its end-of-life phase is typically sustainable. 100% cellulose makes up viscose fabric, making it a biodegradable substance. Thus, at the end of the fabric’s life, there are three available options:
- End-of-life options include landfill in all of their forms.
Viscose products decompose in about six weeks, as opposed to plastic-based products, which could occupy landfill space for up to one hundred years. Decomposition of cotton typically takes 11 weeks.
The chemicals used to make viscose fabric are also released into the environment as it degrades. Consequently, the compost will be tainted.
What is Sustainable Viscose Fabric?
Fortunately, material technologies are constantly improving, and advancements in the production of viscose indicate that things are improving. Modal and lyocell, two more recent semi-synthetic fibers, are excellent role models.
Is Modal Rayon/viscose Eco-friendly?
Sometimes referred to as a “second-generation” cellulosic fiber, the modal fabric is a step up from conventional viscose in terms of material performance and sustainability credentials.
Despite the fact that generic modal production employs the same techniques and substances (i.e. carbon disulfide) as viscose, the closed-loop process is used by the Austrian company Lenzing to create its modal.
As a zero-waste concept, closed-loop manufacturing uses the majority of the chemicals and water used in the process to be captured and recycled repeatedly, greatly reducing toxic waste and harmful environmental discharge.
In comparison to conventional production methods for viscose, this also offers an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the progress, Lenzing Modal only receives a Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres ranking of D. It now ranks above virgin synthetic fibers and cotton, wool, conventional viscose, and bamboo viscose, but only with a middle rating.
Is Lyocell Viscose Eco-friendly?
The third generation of cellulosic fibers is lyocell fabric. The most sustainable brand is TENCEL™ lyocell, produced once more by Lenzing. It is two classes above bamboo, three classes above generic viscose, and two classes above modal in the Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres’ class B.
TENCEL™ not only uses eucalyptus as a raw material from sustainably managed sources, but the entire production process is much more environmentally friendly.
It employs a closed-loop process that recycles the majority (up to 95%) of the chemicals and water. It substitutes an organic solvent for sodium hydroxide. As more cutting-edge and novel cellulosic fibers are researched, things are only going to get better.
There is currently a shift away from pulps made of wood toward experiments using commonplace materials like milk, orange peels, and even coffee grounds. Will they be suitable for wearing even though they sound good enough to eat?
Regardless, these developments show that viscose is one of a class of fibers with a lot of room for development. Just wait for demand and technology to catch up.
What About Bamboo Viscose Fabric?
It’s important to bring up bamboo fabric without wanting to spoil the celebration of sustainable materials. Concerns have been raised about this relative newcomer to the world of silk-like materials’ sustainability.
Bamboo is undoubtedly environmentally friendly when first grown. It grows quickly without a lot of water or chemicals, and it sequesters more carbon from the atmosphere than most plants, making it one of the most sustainable plants in the world.
However, just like with regular viscose, the conversion of bamboo cellulose into a wearable material requires a lot of toxic chemicals, which harms the environment. The good news for fans of bamboo is that bamboo lyocell is produced using a closed-loop system.
Conclusion: is Viscose a Sustainable Fabric?
In general, viscose fabric is not a very sustainable material. It is completely biodegradable because it is made of natural cellulose fibers. However, it is less environmentally friendly than, say, lyocell, the third generation of rayon, due to the high chemical and energy usage.
Because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, aids in resource conservation, and benefits forests, animals, and people, it is crucial to purchase products made of more sustainable fabrics.
Is Viscose Biodegradable?
Although viscose is biodegradable, it may take 20 to 200 years for it to do so completely. Its synthetic nature is to blame for this. Therefore, it might be argued that it is not entirely biodegradable, unlike wool or cotton is 100%.
How Long Does It Take Viscose to Decompose?
Viscose takes about six weeks to break down. For comparison, cotton requires 11 weeks.
Is Viscose More Sustainable Than Fully Synthetic Fabrics?
In that it can be broken down, viscose is more environmentally friendly than fabrics made entirely of synthetic materials. In contrast to natural fibers, the chemical process used to make viscose is extremely polluting and not generally regarded as sustainable.
Is Viscose Breathable?
Viscose rayon is very breathable, making it a cool fabric for stylish summer wear.