In this guide, we look at whether Rayon is Eco Friendly & Sustainable for use in products like clothing, fabric and textiles.
We also acknowledge that rayon is a widely used term, so we give an explanation of what it is exactly and examples of the different types of rayon.
Firstly, What Is Rayon?
Rayon is the general name people use to describe regenerated, or semi synthetic fibres.
They are called semi synthetic because they are sourced from a natural cellulose raw material (such as wood, or bamboo, just as a few examples), but are then manufactured/modified by humans in the production process using synthetic chemicals to dissolve pulp, before extruding a fibre or filament and continuing the rest of the fabric production process.
Rayon comes in many forms – viscose, lyocell, modal, bamboo, and so on.
Is Rayon Eco Friendly & Sustainable?
Obviously it depends on the type of rayon.
There’s probably two main factors that determine how eco friendly and sustainable a particular type of rayon is:
What source the cellulose material comes from, and how it’s grown
What chemicals are used for production/manufacturing, and the method and procedures involved in the manufacturing of the fibre or filament
[there’s also the bleaching, dying, weaving and finishing of the final fabric or product to consider, and you also have to consider if the final product is blended with another fibre]
An eco friendly and sustainable and sustainable rayon might:
Be grown in a responsibly and sustainable way, from a natural source like trees or organically grown plants. The material used might be traceable from where it’s grown, to manufacture, to the consumer
Use closed loop processing for the manufacture of fibres or filaments to capture chemicals and waste water, and potentially re-use them
Have some type of sustainable processes in place for yarn weaving and other parts of the fabric and product manufacture process
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.
Two Examples Of Rayon, & How Eco Friendly & Sustainable They Might Be
Two examples of rayon are:
- lyocell (the main producer is TENCEL – and they have their own production process)
- and, chemically processed bamboo rayon
TENCEL don’t specifically refer to their product as a rayon (from what we can see) – but, lyocell in a general sense is a type of rayon.
TENCEL is one of the more eco friendly and sustainable fibres on the market for two main reasons:
- they source their wood (cellulose) from sustainably grown and renewable wood sources, and their materials are traceable
- they have a closed loop process for re-using and capturing wastewater, and production chemicals (solvents) – instead of dumping them in the environment
TENCEL also have a range of certifications that are available to view on the ‘sustainability’ page on their site.
Bamboo as a plant and with it’s growing process is quite eco friendly and renewable.
It’s the production process that is usually questionable from an eco friendly point of view.
Once a bamboo stem is grown and cut, it can be processed in two main ways – mechanical processing, or chemical processing.
Mechanical processing is usually slower and more costly, so it hasn’t been used as heavily in recent times. When the bamboo is processed in this way – it is not rayon.
Chemical processing where solvents/chemicals help extract the short bamboo fibres from the bamboo stem, is usually cheaper and quicker. When the bamboo is processed in this way, it makes a bamboo rayon viscose, and bamboo rayon is produced.
The chemical processing of bamboo, without the presence of a closed loop system, or a way of capturing waste water and chemicals and solvents used in the production process, can be damaging to the environment, and not as sustainable as mechanical processing.
The US actually changed their labelling standards so consumers knew when they were getting ‘bamboo rayon’ as opposed to naturally grown and processed bamboo.
How To Know If You Are Getting Eco Friendly & Sustainable Rayon
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 rayon and silk)
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