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How sustainable are textiles made from eucalyptus? An investigation into the fiber

Using a more responsible manufacturing process, eucalyptus fiber creates a lower environmental impact than cotton for the production of clothes

Eucalyptus: a sustainable fabric for quality and ethical clothing

Working towards a more sustainable and ethical lifestyle has made human activity explore other ways to create. The clothing industry hasn’t yet reached the same level of sustainability as food and energy; the current inexpensive polyester-derived materials used during the manufacture of clothes still represent a higher percentage of the economic wheel since presenting alternative resources takes longer in terms of time, energy and research. Most of the fabrics available in the market today are obtained from chemical processing phases. In the absence of textile certifications who guarantee sustainable production, these fabrics can be considered harmful to the environment. Here we explore how eucalyptus can be turned into a sustainable fabric for quality and ethical clothing. Eucalyptus is a woody flowering tree or shrub, a family tree that comprehends almost seven hundred species mostly found in Australia and southeast Asia but several varieties grow in Europe, America and Africa. It is a fast growing plant that has attracted attention for its oil, used for cleaning and as a natural insecticide. Eucalyptus as a material is known as lyocell, made from the pulp of eucalyptus trees. Until March 2018 Tencel was synonymous with lyocell, the artificial fiber of natural origin extracted from eucalyptus plants, while today we can find the Tencel label in both lyocell and modal clothing. Eucalyptus Tencel is produced using a lyocell process exclusively from the wood pulp of eucalyptus trees certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), and the fiber carries the Pan-European Forest Council (PEFC) seal. FSC certification verifies that the chosen land is suitable by examining that the pre-existing flora has not been previously destroyed, thanks to a careful selection of free land, and the functional re-grafting practices are implemented, where the eucalyptus trees are regenerated, allowing only the strictly necessary amount of land to be used. The eucalyptus plantations used by Lenzig AG for the production of lyocell are all located in Europe, where the supply chain is controllable and reliable. To this day, no natural, artificial or synthetic fiber can be defined as ecological without the presence of textile certifications that attest to its sustainability. The making of eucalyptus fiber has a similar process as the one of other semi-synthetic natural fibers, such as viscose bamboo fabric: the eucalyptus wood is pulped, reduced down into a cellulose viscous solution that is forced through spinnerets, subsequently spun into a soft, lightweight, breathable and hygroscopic fabric. Tencel manufacturing process only utilizes one non-toxic solvent, amine oxide, that allows closed loop processing where up to 99% of the chemical is perpetually re-used, minimising the impact on the environment and conserving energy and water. Also, waste products in the air and water from the manufacturing process are minimal and considered harmless.

Eucalyptus fiber creates a lower environmental impact than cotton

Blending lyocell and organic cotton: Tencel

Tencel lyocell can be used for ecological clothing, but it does not fall into the organic category unless it is blended with organic cotton: blending lyocell and organic cotton is a common practice and is used by fashion companies to lower the cost of selling the finished product due to the expensive costs of lyocell. The final textile can be recycled or digested in sewage and is also biodegradable at a fast rate, degrading completely in eight days in waste treatment plants. Its environmental footprint is lower than that of both standard cotton and organic cotton, because one of the advantages of lyocell fiber is the low amount of land occupied by eucalyptus trees. «Another aspect of working with natural fibers is learning to understand the interconnectivity between Earth and human activity» tells Asherah Kaliyana, founder of Nomadica Clothing on her personal vision of ethical production. The open conversation about natural derived fibers enlightened numerous aspects about the manufacture of new products whilst in fact trying to be as respectful of the environment as possible. «It is clear that a certain amount of energy and water need to be consumed in order to get the final product. Using the eucalyptus fiber we are allowed to use less. We decide to not dye the fabric after the manufacturing process, leaving the color that the process creates. At the moment we aren’t able to find completely natural dyes that are compatible with the environment and have sufficient grip on the fabric, so we chose to dye only pieces made in organic cotton and silk». Working with eucalyptus fiber is expensive and requires longer times to be made into yarn. During the process, the fiber is spun in a light twist using a small spinning wheel that secrete a small amount of fiber at a time. It can also be pleated, but that would take even longer. «During the pandemic we experienced a rise in our sales. We translated that as a further approach into organic clothing, because people got more conscious. When human activity had to stop for a while, people had the time to think about the repercussions of our industry and considered investing in organic clothing» continued Kaliyana.

Lampoon review: no guarantee without certifications

Despite being ecological, lyocell cannot be identified as sustainable in the long term. In many countries around the world, the cultivation of organic cotton is the main source of support for many farming communities; if we assume for a moment that lyocell takes a larger share of the market currently occupied by cotton, this scenario would inflict repercussions for millions of people, as well as their economic and social sustenance. Unlike organic cotton plants, eucalyptus is woody and needs energy input to convert it into a soft fiber before it can be used for clothing. The exploitation of low-cost labour can also be a significant problem in the production of lyocell – as for natural fibers –, in the plantations of eucalyptus plants, where in the absence of controls, no one can guarantee ethical behavior towards farmers. Without control bodies, no one can guarantee that the trees where the eucalyptus trees are planted are sustainable and non-destructive for the surrounding environment. The Tencel label guarantees that Lyocell production has the minimum environmental footprint and that the entire production chain is socially ethical, thanks to the FSC certification. Eucalyptus trees occupy thousands of hectares of land meaning the greater is the demand for lyocell, the greater the quantity of eucalyptus trees need to be planted. This increase in demand reflects on the continuous expansion of the arable land, especially in India and Bangladesh, countries that face destruction of rainforests and entire ecosystems. Lyocell with the Tencel label is not destructive to forests, as they are all located in Europe and are guaranteed by the FSC Forest Stewardship Council certification.

Nomadica clothing

Nomadica is a fashion brand whose focus is spirituality and human-Earth connection, that invites customers to buy clothes in a more eco-conscious way. They developed their lines using fibers made out of eucalyptus labelled Tencel, a certified yarn that is not only protective of rainforests and ecosystems but guarantees to be respectful and non-destructive of local economies and surroundings, where eucalyptus trees are planted.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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