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‘Surely We Are Smarter Than Mowing Down 1,000-year-old Trees to Make T-shirts’ – the Complex Rise of Viscose

July 01, 2024 | Source: The Guardian | by Fleur Britten

You might think that wearing a top made from wood pulp would give instant eco-credentials – it is renewable, biodegradable, and, having once been a tree, it has soaked up some carbon along the way. What’s more, it’s not plastic. This is why many brands are opting for viscose, Lycocell, acetate and modal – soft, silky, semi-synthetic fabrics made from tree-pulp – as an apparently more sustainable option.

Except that the chances are that your wood-pulp top may not be so green. “Deforestation continues to be a problem,” says Nicole Rycroft, who founded Canopy, a Vancouver-based NGO, 25 years ago to help protect ancient and endangered forests. The NGO’s initiative CanopyStyle focuses on fashion. “It’s 2024 – surely we are smarter than mowing down 1,000-year-old trees to make T-shirts.”

In total, about 300m trees are logged globally each year to make viscose, sustainably or otherwise. These fabrics go by the rather geeky term, “man-made cellulosic fibres”, or MMCFs. Demand for viscose, the third most used fabric in fashion (after polyester and cotton), is expected to double over the next eight years, says Rycroft: “Many brands are looking for a substitute for polyester or virgin cotton, but it’s trading one environmental disaster for another.”