Are Lyocell & TENCEL Eco Friendly & Sustainable As Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?

Are Lyocell & TENCEL Eco Friendly & Sustainable For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?

There’s a few different fabrics that can be used for clothing and textiles that are claimed to be sustainable or eco friendly.

Lyocell and TENCEL are a few of them.

In this short guide, we look at how sustainable and eco friendly Lyocell and TENCEL really are according to different measures.

 

Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Are Lyocell & TENCEL For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles?

Firstly, be aware that:

Lyocell is technically it’s own type of general fibre, whilst TENCEL is a branded and patented specialised type of the Lyocell fibre – so they are different.

There is the growing, and also the processing stages to consider for each fibre when looking at sustainability and eco friendliness

 

Onto an assessment of how lyocell and TENCEL might rate in terms of sustainability:

Overall, compared to regular cotton:

TENCEL might use a lot less water than cotton in growing, and potentially in the processing stage too (especially if waste water can be captured and recycled)

TENCEL Modal fibres may save up to 50% of the energy, and have a 60% lower carbon footprint compared to conventionally dyed fabrics, and synthetic fibres

Trees used for the cellulose source for lyocell may not need anywhere near as much pesticide or fertilizer

Trees used for TENCEL might be able to make use of lower quality land that cotton can’t – cotton might need higher quality agricultural land to be grown

TENCEL lyocell and modal fibres are certified compostable and biodegradable

TENCEL is sourced from a traceable source, and used closed loop process in processing where chemicals and waste water are captured and re-used where possible. The chemicals used may be less harmful that traditional rayon viscose chemicals used for dissolving, dying, bleaching, and so on

 

Lyocell

Lyocell as a general fibre has a few different growers/producers around the world (it can be hard to get information on every producer).

Depending on who grows and processes the Lyocell, it may or may not be generally eco friendly and sustainable. The growing process (using hardwood trees) is usually better than cotton because there are a lot less pesticides and fertilizers used, and a lot less land. 

Chemicals can be used to process/manufacture the fibre though (as opposed to mechanical processing) – which can be dumped into the environment without treatment and cause different types of environmental pollution.

Sourcing of wood pulp from a responsibly farmed forest, and using closed loop processing can make the lyocell more eco friendly and sustainable.

 

TENCEL (lyocell and modal)

TENCEL branded lyocell & modal is among the most eco friendly and sustainable fibres/fabrics on the market – if not, the most eco friendly and sustainable (it’s probably up there with organic cotton).

This is because of the sustainably sourced wood (from sustainable tree farms), and closed loop processing (which catches or re-uses chemicals and bleaches to prevent most water pollution).

TENCEL have their own production and manufacturing processes separate to other lyocell producers and manufacturers.

Overall, TENCEL might be:

Sourced from certified or sustainably farmed wood

Dissolved in a non-toxic organic solvent

The solution is extruded through fine holes to produce fiber and the solvent is recycled in a closed-loop process – more than 99% of the solvent is recovered and reused.

The fabric processing of TENCEL® lyocell fiber does not utilize any harmful chemicals (like formaldehyde) sometimes used to finish this type of fabric

 

The overall drawback to TENCEL is that it isn’t produced at scale yet (compared to cotton – cotton production dwarfs TENCEL production), wood cutters might be held to questionable standards on their sustainable tree farms, and TENCEL is generally expensive compared to other fibres and textiles.

Also, although the production process uses closed loop manufacturing (where chemicals, bleaches, dyes and polluted waste waster are captured and re-used where possible), the process still does use chemicals.

 

The above summary and the information found in this guide is a generalisation only.

* Note that Lyocell & TENCEL fibre growing/farming, and processing may differ by country, especially between the first world and developing world countries.

* Different woods used, conditions, climates, soils, farming technology, farming methods and other factors can impact how well the fibre for Lyocell/TENCEL fibre grows, and different factories and processing plants have different procedures.

These factors and others can impact the final sustainability and eco friendliness of any particular product.

There’s also the social impact, economics and practicality to consider. Just because something is eco friendly and sustainable to produce – it doesn’t mean that it is good for employment, profitable or even practical to produce (for businesses and workers) or use (for consumers).

So, there can be a weighing up of product priorities, preferences (for buyers, sellers, and society) and conflicts of interest to consider (political and corporate agendas can sometimes play a part too for example). 

 

What Are Lyocell & TENCEL?

You can read a guide about what Lyocell and TENCEL are here. But as a summary:

Lyocell

Lyocell is a form of rayon, and closely resembles a rayon viscose because it is sourced specifically from wood pulp cellulose fibre (from trees, as opposed to another natural cellulose fibre like bamboo for example), and dissolved in a bleached wood pulp using chemicals. Rayons are referred to as a regenerated or semi synthetic fibre because they come from a natural cellulosic source, but use synthetic chemicals to help form the fibre. A rayon viscose is a type of rayon that uses specifically wood for the natural cellulose, as opposed to say bamboo as one example, which is a bamboo rayon.

Lyocell fibres might then be formed using dry jet-wet spinning.

General Lyocell fibre is made processed chemically or mechanically from Hardwood log chips (such as oak and birch) and other wood pulps (like eucalyptus).

– lyocell.info, and wikipedia.org

 

TENCEL

There might be several lyocell producers in the world – but, TENCEL (owned by Lenzing Fibers Inc) is the most well known. They produce their own type or specialisation fiber of lyocell, and have their own sustainable growing and production procedures and methods.

blend composition of a fabric must be a minimum of 30% TENCEL® to be able to use the brand name.

TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are derived from sustainable wood sources – natural forests and sustainably managed plantations. Wood and pulp used by the Lenzing Group is harvested from certified and controlled sources.

TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers use an environmentally responsible closed loop production process, which transforms wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low ecological impact. This solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.

TENCEL™ Modal fibers are mainly manufactured from the renewable source of raw material beech wood, sourced from sustainable forests in Austria and neighboring countries.

TENCEL™ Modal fibers [are eco friendly in the production process with the] use of renewable energy and by the recovery of process chemicals. 

– tencel.com

 

Lyocell is the generic name for the fibers produced by Lenzing, which are not produced by the traditional viscose process but rather by solvent spinning.

– oecotextiles.wordpress.com

 

How Much Water Do Lyocell & TENCEL Use To Grow/Manufacture?

  • [it is estimated] 100 times more water is required to produce cotton fibre than Tencel (including growing, harvest and production).

– abch.world

 

  • Tencel does use less land and water than cotton production … cotton, especially industrially farmed to satisfy global demand, uses up to 20 times more water.
  • Tencel is also made from eucalyptus trees, which don’t require … irrigation

– businessinsider.com.au

 

  • [For TENCEL Modal Fibres] compared to conventionally dyed fabrics, up to 50% of … water can be saved.

– tencel.com

 

The processing stage for TENCEL fibre recycles and recaptures waste water to use it again.

 

Lyocell is assumed to be similarly water efficient, although the non TENCEL/Lenzing Lyocell production manufacturing may use a lot more water at the production stage if the manufacturers don’t recapture and re-use water. 

 

Carbon Footprint of Lyocell & TENCEL, & How Much Energy They Use

  • [For TENCEL Modal Fibres] compared to conventionally dyed fabrics, up to 50% of energy and water can be saved, as well as 60% less carbon footprint.

– tencel.com

 

  • [Studies show that] natural fibers [like hardwood] use less total energy and have a smaller carbon footprint than synthetic fibers

– oecotextiles.wordpress.com

 

The trees used for the wood chips (that the cellulose is obtained from) can sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

 

How Much Pesticide Do Lyocell & TENCEL Need To Grow

  • Tencel is also made from eucalyptus trees, which don’t require pesticides 

– businessinsider.com.au

 

How Much Fertilizer Do Lyocell & TENCEL Need To Grow

  • Lenzing Viscose® and Lenzing Modal® are produced from sustainably harvested beech trees and Tencel® from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees.
  • Eucalyptus grows quickly and without … fertilizers 

– life.ca

 

TENCEL & Use Of GMOs

  • Lenzing Viscose® and Lenzing Modal® are produced from sustainably harvested beech trees and Tencel® from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees.
  • Eucalyptus grows quickly and without … genetic manipulation

– life.ca

 

Lyocell & TENCEL, & Land Degradation & Soil Health

  • Growing trees feed on sunlight, water and the carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
  • The cellulose used to produce Lenzing’s fibers is a natural component in wood.
  • At the end of our fibers’ life cycle, cellulose disintegrates into its native substances and prepares the ground for new plants to grow. 

– lenzing.com

 

  • Tencel does use less land … than cotton production.
  • Tencel is also made from eucalyptus trees … Lenzing says it can grow enough trees for a ton of Tencel on half an acre of forestland, [and this land is] likely unsuitable for farming [so it makes good use of land that would otherwise not be used for resource production]. Cotton needs up to five times as much of high quality farmland [that we could be using for either crops or livestock] …

– businessinsider.com.au

 

The Yield Of Lyocell & TENCEL

  • Lenzing [who makes TENCEL in the US] says it can grow enough trees for a ton of Tencel on half an acre of forestland, likely unsuitable for farming.
  • Cotton needs up to five times as much of high quality farmland …

– businessinsider.com.au

 

How Many Chemicals Do Lyocell & TENCEL Use In The Processing Stage?

TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers use an environmentally responsible closed loop production process, which transforms wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low ecological impact. This solvent-spinning process recycles process water and reuses the solvent at a recovery rate of more than 99%.

TENCEL™ Modal fibers [are eco friendly in the production process with the] use of renewable energy and by the recovery of process chemicals. 

– tencel.com

 

So, there is very little negative impact on the environment at the production stage for TENCEL.

 

General Lyocell might be different though:

  • While production of lyocell fibers is generally eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable, the transformation of lyocell fibers into fabric and garments can use many or the same harsh, and even toxic, chemicals and processes used in conventional garments. 
  • This is because of two properties of lyocell: it doesn’t always accept dyes well, and it has an inherent tendency to fibrillate or “pill”.  In wet processes the surface of lyocell fibers begins to peel away.  These hairs on the fiber surface are called fibrils. When controlled in the correct way, the fabric is given a “peachskin” surface.
  • [Because lyocell can use synthetic chemicals, dyes and sometimes bleaches – lyocell is not the same as an organic piece of clothing that doesn’t use them.]

– organicclothing.blogs.com

 

Pollution Of Land, Water, & Soil/Land By Lyocell & TENCEL

TENCEL is perhaps one of the least polluting fibres available, because the growing process is sustainable with little use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Also, the production process may use chemicals, and bleaches and dyes, but there is a closed loop for capture and re-use/treatment, so these synthetics don’t get out into the environment and cause pollution. 

 

Biodegradability & Compostability Of Lyocell and TENCEL Fibres

  • TENCEL™ fibers originate from the renewable raw material wood created by the natural process of photosynthesis.
  • The cellulosic fibers are manufactured using an environmentally responsible production process.
  • Composed of natural material, TENCEL™ fibers are biodegradable and compostable and can fully revert back to nature.

– tencel.com

 

Impact Of Growing & Producing Lyocell & TENCEL On Humans and Human Health

Very little at the growing stage because there are few pesticides used.

One note however is that TENCEL textiles may still have chemicals on them (dyes, bleaches etc.) – so they may not be the best for people with allergies or skin reactions to these chemicals.

 

Impact Of Growing & Producing Lyocell & TENCEL On Animals & Wildlife

Very little compared to say cotton.

The lack of use of pesticides, fertilizers and release of production chemicals into water sources means there is less impact on wildlife and animals.

 

Sources

1. https://www.tencel.com/general 

2. https://lyocell.info/ 

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyocell 

4. https://goodonyou.eco/how-ethical-is-tencel/ 

5. https://organicclothing.blogs.com/my_weblog/2005/11/tencel_sustaina.html 

6. https://www.lenzing.com/en/sustainability/resources/water/ 

7. https://abch.world/blogs/news/fibre-101-tencel  

8. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-tencel-compares-to-cotton-2015-9?r=UK&IR=T 

9. http://www.niscair.res.in/sciencecommunication/researchjournals/rejour/Ijftr/Fulltextsearch/2004/December%202004/IJFTR-Vol%2029-December%202004-pp%20483-492.htm 

10. https://aestheticstories.com/tencel-lyocell/  

11. https://www.theecohub.ca/sustainable-fabric-guide-bamboo-vs-lyocell-vs-organic-cotton/  

12. https://www.lenzing.com/en/sustainability/  

13. https://www.tencel.com/images/site/TENCEL-Brochure.pdf  

14. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Lyocell.html 

15. http://www.fibersource.com/fiber-products/lyocell-fiber/ 

16. https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/estimating-the-carbon-footprint-of-a-fabric/  

17. https://www.life.ca/naturallife/0908/ecofiber_or_fraud.htm  

18. https://www.tencel.com/sustainability 

19. https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/tag/modal/

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