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Viscose fiber’s environmental impact still needs to be seen

In viscose, how the raw material is generated goes a long way in determining its impact on environment. This is as per a recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study completed by SCS Global Services on behalf of Stella McCartney, focusing on the production of viscose fibre. Tobias Schultz, Director of Research and Development at SCS, says apparel companies are interested in identifying environmentally preferable fibres for use but little R&D had been conducted on viscose (also known as rayon).

Manmade cellulosic fibres from different sources may be functionally and chemically identical, but can have radically different environmental profiles based on the processes and technologies used in production, says Schultz. For example, manmade cellulosics from tropical hardwoods originating in Indonesia had significant negative impact associated with deforestation of the rainforest which were completely different from MMCF originating from well-managed forests in Sweden.

MMCF made from Belgian flax or recycled clothing emerged as favourable across a majority of impact categories. Asian production from Canadian boreal forest pulp, Chinese production from Indonesian rainforest pulp, Chinese production from Indonesian plantation pulp, and Indian cotton linter pulped in China had the heaviest environmental footprints among the scenarios examined.

The report was then peer-reviewed by representatives from Price Waterhouse Cooper, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University, and the environmental not-for-profit organization Canopy. This level of scrutiny ensured the report’s findings were robust and reliable, he said.

The study should serve as a key resource for the apparel industry, as it provides insights into the wide range of impacts that a brand’s or supplier’s choice of MMCF fibre source can have, including impacts on species, forest ecosystems, freshwater, global climate and human health.