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Scripps Institution Confirms Biodegradability of Lenzing Fibers

The Lenzing Group, a global provider of wood-based specialty fibers, has received further scientific proof of the biodegradability of its fibers.

In a new study, scientists from academic research institute Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at the University of California in San Diego confirmed that wood-based cellulosic fibers 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 fibers. 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.

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 fibers in specific scenarios–under various real oceanic conditions and controlled aquaria conditions. The results of these experiments found that while wood-based cellulosic fibers fully biodegraded within 30 days, the fossil-based fibers tested were practically unchanged after more than 200 days.

“Our business model is one of a circular economy,” Robert van de Kerkhof, a member of the managing board at Lenzing Group, said. “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. 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 fibers.”

The biodegradability of Lenzing fibers was also tested in the laboratory of Organic Waste Systems (OWS) in Belgium, a specialist in biodegradability and compostability testing, which confirmed 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.

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Certificates from the certification organization TÜV Austria also show that Lenzing fibers 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.

Lenzing said the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry as a result of fast-fashion business models is extreme, and the use of fossil-based, synthetic fibers in textiles has approximately doubled in the last 20 years. Lenzing also welcomes the European Union’s (EU) targeted measures to combat plastic waste in general, such as those relating to the single-use plastic directive.

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 said its wood-based, biodegradable cellulosic fibers can be part of a sustainable and innovative solution to this man-made problem that will continue to grow.