Rayon, also known as viscose, is said to be the world’s third most commonly used textile fibre. It is a semi-synthetic fibre derived from trees, which is why the material has recently become a contentious environmental issue.
Rayon is a fibre from regenerated cellulose, generally derived from wood pulp. The fibre is usually made from eucalyptus trees, but any plant can be used (such as bamboo, soy, cotton, etc).
Hence, the substantial environmental concern arising from rayon production is the deforestation involved. Thousands of hectares of rainforest are cut down yearly to plant trees specifically used to make rayon. Only a very small percentage of this wood is obtained through sustainable forestry practices. According to Canopy Planet, roughly 30% of rayon and viscose clothing comes from endangered and ancient forests, and in general, 6% of the global apparel industry uses forest-based fabrics.
To produce the fiber, the plant cellulose goes through a process involving a lot of chemicals, energy and water. Solvents used during the process can be very toxic to humans and to the environment. Viscose, modal, lyocell, and bamboo are different types of rayon.
For those reasons, conventional rayon doesn’t belong to SANE Approved Material List.
Are there any sustainable options for Viscose / Rayon materials?
Yes, sustainable rayon options exist, with initiatives including certifications for responsible forestry and closed-loop production processes avoiding the release of toxic chemicals in nature.
The SANE Approved Material List includes some sustainable rayon options, such as FSC-certified Lyocell.
Sources: CFDA; Copy partner: Sustain Your Style; Picture: Kushal Gopal