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Lenzing says scientists from the SIO research institute at the University of California, San Diego, have confirmed that wood-based cellulosic fibres biodegrade in the ocean within a short period of time at the end of their life cycle, making them a better alternative to fossil-based fibres.

The research was the result of an independent project trying to understand the “end-of-life” scenarios for textiles and nonwovens discarded in the environment.

The study saw SIO compare the degradation processes of nonwovens made from fossil-based synthetic materials such as polyester with those of cellulosic materials such as Lenzing’s wood-based lyocell, modal and viscose fibres in specific scenarios – under various real oceanic conditions and controlled aquaria conditions. While wood-based cellulosic fibres fully biodegraded within 30 days, the fossil-based fibres tested were said to be practically unchanged after more than 200 days.

“Our business model is one of a circular economy. We take wood from sustainable forestry and use a highly efficient system of processing all raw materials to produce fibers that are able to return to the ecosystem at the end of their life cycle,” says Robert van de Kerkhof, member of the managing board at Lenzing Group. “The textile and nonwoven industries have to change. Our goal is to raise widespread awareness of major challenges such as plastic pollution and persuade the industry to make the transition to wood-based, biodegradable Tencel, Lenzing Ecovero and Veocel fibres.”

The biodegradability of Lenzing fibres was also tested in the laboratory of Organic Waste Systems (OWS) in Belgium which showed data confirmed by those found with the real-life measurements at Scripps. The OWS assessment was conducted in accordance with applicable international standards and reflects relevant natural and artificial conditions in which biodegradation can occur. Certificates from the certification organisation TÜV Austria show that Lenzing fibres rapidly biodegrade in all test environments (soil, industrial composting, home composting, fresh water and marine water) within the time frames set by the applicable standards.

“Environmental pollution from plastics is an important problem of our time, which may affect many generations to come” Lenzing says. “The environmental damage caused by the fashion industry as a result of fast fashion business models is particularly extreme. The use of fossil-based, synthetic fibres in textiles has approximately doubled in the last 20 years, which is a trend that is expected to continue.

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Consequently, Lenzing says it welcomes the EU’s targeted measures to combat plastic waste in general, such as those relating to the single-use plastic directive (EU) 2019/904 3. It notes its wood-based, biodegradable cellulosic fibres can be part of a sustainable and innovative solution to this man-made problem that will continue to grow.

Lenzing recently said it expanding its sustainable offering for the denim industry with the introduction of matte Tencel branded lyocell fibres.