Viscose Rayon has been a leading material in the textile world since the discovery of the viscose process in 1891 and its introduction to commercial markets in the early 1900s. Viscose Rayon is sought after for its versatility, dye-retention, flame retardance, cool properties, affordability, and its silk-like appearance.
Viscose is a hybrid fiber used in a wide array of products that is derived from cellulose (mostly wood pulp) and processed using various compounds; the material is neither manmade nor natural. Cellulose is a polysaccharide made up of repeating D-glucose building blocks and is a crucial structural component in plants’ primary cell walls.
The name ‘Viscose’ comes from the viscous solution that the rayon fibers are processed through necessary to manufacture the fabric. During this stage, the material is treated using chemicals that allow it to exhibit the properties discussed above. The figure illustrates the various chemical reactions necessary to carry out viscose production.
Given its complex properties and derivatives from natural sources, the literature surrounding metrics tracking environmental impacts of this material is vague at best. Pollution during the process through carbon disulfide, zinc, and sulfur emissions along with intensive water and energy requirements contribute to the footprint of this material. Furthermore, zinc places workers involved in viscose production at risk for cancer. Many of these laborers are located in loosely regulated regions (China, India, Southern Asia) and subject to unsafe or unsanitary conditions in addition.
The versatility and flexibility of Viscose Rayon is an appeal to companies and designers alike in the fashion industry (and even tires). However, as with all industries—these benefits should be weighed pragmatically with the accompanying impacts on the environment, communities, and individuals alike.
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Shaikh, Tasnim et al. “Viscose Rayon: A Legendary Development In The Manmade Textile”. Ijera, vol 2, no. 5, 2012, pp. 675-680., http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.449.1629&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
Wedin, H., Niit, E., Mansoor, Z.A. et al. Preparation of Viscose Fibres Stripped of Reactive Dyes and Wrinkle-Free Crosslinked Cotton Textile Finish. J Polym Environ 26, 3603–3612 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10924-018-1239-y