Despite mainly being found in fashion, lyocell has found a home in many different industries due to its versatile properties. It is soft yet strong and easy to blend with other materials. And it should come as no surprise that the market is growing, between 2021 and 2026 it is expected to grow by over 7%. As consumers, we have become more environmentally-aware over the past decade – and this extends to our wardrobes. But how does lyocell fare in this area? Is it sustainable?
Firstly, what is Lyocell?
Lyocell is a manmade cellulosic fiber – in simple terms, it is made from cellulose that is, primarily, derived from wood. The eucalyptus tree is the most commonly used tree to make lyocell, but others such as oak and birch can also be used in its production. During production, the wood is ground to a pulp before being dissolved by a solvent called amine oxide. The thick solution is then pushed through a spinneret – much like water through a showerhead – to produce long lyocell fibers. These can then be spun then woven into lyocell fabric.
So, is lyocell sustainable?
Lyocell is biodegradable
A material is said to be biodegradable if it can be broken down by micro-organisms, such as bacteria, into its component parts. Essentially, returning to nature. Lyocell is biodegradable, as long as it has not been blended with any synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon. In the right conditions, it can biodegrade in a matter of months. Although this is not the only factor when determining the sustainability of a material, it certainly is a major positive.
Composting is an increasingly popular way to dispose of organic waste. ‘Biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not interchangeable terms – just because an item is biodegradable does not mean it is compostable. For example, it may not contain suitable nutrients or it may contain chemicals that will contaminate the compost. Thankfully, lyocell (not blended with synthetics) fits the bill and can be added as a ‘brown’, carbon-rich ingredient. Just cut it into small pieces, throw it in and mix it in. Not only will it contribute to a nutrient-rich fertilizer, it will save you some money too. What’s not to like?
Lyocell is durable
Lyocell can be a very long-lasting material if cared for correctly. In terms of its ‘green’ credentials this is key. As well as saving you a bit money, this is positive in terms of environmental impact. Long lasting goods means that the resources used and waste produced will be minimized. However, as mentioned, the correct care will be needed to increase its longevity. Although it is a strong fiber, it is also delicate. Follow the care guidelines to the letter to keep it at its best for longer.
Talking of laundry, lyocell items inbuilt breathability make them even easier to care for. They will last that little bit longer before needed popped in the laundry basket. Reducing the amount of household tasks and saving water in the process!
It is made from a renewable resource
Lyocell is made from trees which are, of course, a renewable resource. Lyocell made from eucalyptus score highly when it comes to renewability – they grow ridiculously fast! In fact, it is one of the fastest growing tree species on the planet. However, it should be noted that the farming practice adopted can affect the eco-friendliness of the fabric. For example, if native forests are cleared to make space for these plantations the ‘green’ credentials must be questioned. Like most environmental impacts, it is not a straight-forward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. However, sticking to environmentally conscious producers such as Lenzing will ensure you are using the most sustainable lyocell possible!
Non-toxic and chemicals can be re-used
As mentioned previously, chemicals are used in the process. Amine oxide (the solvent used), for example, is non-toxic. It can also be reused – it has been quoted that approximately 99% of the solvent is re-used rather than discarded. And since all materials used in a process come with their own carbon footprint, the less used the better!
The bottom line
Lyocell fares well when it comes to sustainability. In terms of production, it comes from a renewable resource and chemicals used in the process can be re-used over and over again. Its durability means that it will last for a decent amount of time – if cared for well. And even better, at the end of its usable life it will biodegrade and can be composted, essentially returning to nature. It is important to note that practices will vary between producers, however, in general lyocell fabric is an extremely sustainable material.