California Univ confirms biodegradability of Austria’s Lenzing fibres

University of California’s research institute Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) has confirmed the biodegradability of Lenzing fibres. The study published recently has established that wood-based cellulosic fibres biodegrade in the ocean within a short period of time at the end of their life cycle, making 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. SIO has a global reputation for being one of the oldest, largest and most important marine research centres worldwide, Lenzing said in a press release.

In this study, SIO compared 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. The results of these experiments are striking: while wood-based cellulosic fibres fully biodegraded within 30 days, the fossil-based fibres tested were 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,” said 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 – one of the world’s leading companies in biodegradability and compostability testing – 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 TUV 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, the release added.

Consequently, Lenzing also welcomes the EU’s targeted measures to combat plastic waste in general, such as those relating to the single-use plastic directive (EU) 2019/9043. In its recently adopted guidelines for implementing the directive, the EU Commission stipulates the specific products that fall under this category, which is a well-needed effort to provide clarity to the EU member states for their joint campaign against environmental pollution from plastic waste.

Lenzing’s wood-based, biodegradable cellulosic fibres can be part of a sustainable and innovative solution to this man-made problem that will continue to grow. As of July 2021, the single-use plastic directive sets out standardised labelling requirements for certain products, either on packaging or on the products themselves, which include plastic-based feminine hygiene products and wet wipes for body care or household use. This is a start to tackle the problem: educate the consumer and offer alternative materials with better circularity, the release said.


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