While rayon and other pulp-based fabrics are often sold as an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-derived synthetics, according to a recent story from Fast Company, they too can be incredibly damaging to the environment.
“Most people know the link between forests and paper, but they don’t know the link between forest ecosystems and the clothing they have in their wardrobes,” Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of the Vancouver-based nonprofit, Canopy, told Fast Company.
Fabrics like rayon, viscose, and modal are “often made from old-growth trees from endangered rainforests.” Rycroft explains, “We have these carbon-rich forests being converted, and as a result climate change is being exacerbated and we’re losing critical habitat for vulnerable species. It is the palm oil of the fashion world.”
And if indiscriminately razing carbon-rich, old-growth rainforests wasn’t irresponsible enough, the rest of the “nasty, toxic [refining] process” surely covers the deficit. About 60 percent of any given tree is ultimately wasted on its way to becoming a textile, and the process decimates local habitats for animals and humans alike.
Unfortunately, the problem won’t get better without a concerted effort from nearly every corner of the fashion industry, because, “the viscose rayon industry is slated to double again in capacity over the next decade, meaning more dissolving pulp mills will be built to handle the growing demand.”
But, the story notes, organizations like Canopy are fighting back by engaging corporate fashion brands “whose buyers can pressure rayon viscose suppliers.” And it’s working. “So far, [they’ve] won commitments to go rainforest-free from 105 fashion brands representing $130 billion in annual revenue,” as well as “from 10 rayon suppliers, representing 75 percent of the global market.”
You can read more about it at Fast Company.