In this guide, we look at whether Modal fibre is eco friendly and sustainable for use in clothing, fabric and textiles.
We look at the sourcing and manufacturing stages, and outline what might be relevant to sustainability across the different processes.
Firstly, What Is Modal?
Modal is a type of regenerated fibre, and also a type of rayon.
It is usually sourced from trees and uses wood cellulose.
The fibres are usually treated slightly differently to other types of rayon after spinning to make the filaments stronger.
For example, the fibres are also stretched to increase molecular alignment.
This means that modal fibres have the potential to be lighter and finer and can be tumble dried without damage.
TENCEL brand also makes their own branded and trademarked Lyocell Modal fibre with their own sourcing and processing processes.
You can read about the specific of TENCEL’s Modal fibre on their website
Another description of Modal:
Lyocell is the generic name for the fibers (TENCEL Lyocell, and TENCEL Modal) produced by Lenzing, which are not produced by the traditional viscose process but rather by solvent spinning.
These fibers are manufactured by the Austrian company Lenzing, which advertises its environmentally friendly production processes, based on closed loop systems.
Is Modal Eco Friendly & Sustainable?
It depends on which company is sourcing and producing the modal.
There’s probably two main factors that determine how eco friendly and sustainable a particular type of modal is:
What source the cellulose comes from (what the raw material is, and how it’s grown)
What chemicals are used for production/manufacturing, and the method and procedures involved in the manufacturing
In general, the Modal fibre produced by TENCEL is considered to be quite eco friendly and sustainable compared to other fibres.
But – you have to look at the weaving process too, which is a separate consideration.
Some sources indicate that for overall sustainability, it might be worth looking at GOTS certified cotton, recycled cotton, 100% natural linen, and companies that are very transparent with their supply and production processes, or have a range of recognized sustainability certifications across various stages of their supply/production process (growing, production, dying, bleaching, finishing, weaving, and so on), with TENCEL’s lyocell and modal fibres being one potential example of this.
But, there’s also the consumer usage, maintenance and waste/recycling stages to consider as well.
Some bamboos and hemps could be reasonably sustainable when sustainably/responsibly grown, and combining that with closed loop processes, naturally derived production chemicals, and similarly more natural/organic and eco friendly post-growing processes and chemicals used.
An Example Of Modal Fibre By TENCEL, & How It’s Eco Friendly & Sustainable
TENCEL (owned by Lenzing) produces two main fibres – TENCEL Lyocell, and TENCEL Modal.
With TENCEL Modal specifically:
Growing Of Cellulose Material Source – TENCEL™ Modal fibers are mainly manufactured from the renewable source of raw material beech wood, sourced from sustainable forests in Austria and neighboring countries.
Production – Numerous Lenzing innovations have been integrated in the production of TENCEL™ Modal fibers, to make the process environmentally sound.
Lenzing strives to safeguard resources for future generations by the use of renewable energy and by the recovery of process chemicals.
Both the growing/sourcing and production processes used by TENCEL are sustainable and eco friendly.
Wood is sourced sustainably.
And, the production process involves renewable energy, and the recovery of process chemicals (through closed loop processing).
This means these chemicals are discharged in waste water (which contaminates and wastes that water – especially if it comes from a freshwater source) into the environment (which contaminates water, soil, and can impact wildlife) like they might be with the production process for many other types of fibres.
Read more from TENCEL in these resources:
There’s mention of the eco friendly traits and features of the fibre, and the different certifications it’s got.
How To Know If You Are Getting Eco Friendly & Sustainable Modal
You can probably do two things:
1. Look at the label of the product you are buying and see the fibres listed (you may even see a fibre mix such as modal and another fibre)
2. Look at the brand, and have a look on their website to see how they both grow their cellulose source (such as wood), and how it is processed.
Check also for any certifications, names of suppliers, traceability of materials and supply chains, and any detailed information of the entire sourcing, manufacturing, finishing and transportation process
A Note On Fibre Suppliers, & Fabric Makers
Obviously, fibres, filaments and yarns are used to make fabrics.
Growing and production of fibres has an environmental impact, but so does the weaving process to turn yarns and fibres into fabric.
Oecotextiles makes a note about this to be aware of when considering the lifecycle assessment of how eco friendly and/or sustainable a particular fibre is:
… [in 2012] Lenzing does not make fabrics – it sells yarns to mills and others which use the yarns to make fabric and other goods.
So we’re back to the beginning again, because people totally forget about the environmental impact in the weaving of fibers into fabric, where the water and chemical use is very high – if done conventionally, the environmental burden is devastating and the finished fabric itself probably contains many chemicals which are outlawed in other products.
It’s critically important to look at both the fiber as well as the weaving in order to make a good choice.