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LENZING – In our latest Ecotextile Talks podcast, host Philip Berman is joined by Florian Heubrandner, the vice president of fibre manufacturer Lenzing’s global textiles business, to discuss the biodegradability credentials of its man-made cellulosic fibres (MMCF). 

Amid growing concern over the issue of textile microplastics in the world’s oceans, the Austrian firm has turned to place greater onus on biodegradability across its MMCF portfolio. 

“I think it’s starting to show now, the bigger demand for natural fibres that are biodegradable and the recent crisis has only made this trend stronger. If you look at our portfolio, all of our fibres are wood-based by nature, so they’re all biodegradable,” Heubrandner said. 

“We’ve got a huge microplastics issue on this planet. I think it’s only something we’ve started to understand over recent years. Synthetic and plastic-based clothing that we’ve been using, the microplastics that are being shed is huge. One study found that 73 per cent of fish that are found in mid-ocean depths have some form of microplastic in their stomach,” he noted. 

While cellulose-based fibres are of course pervasive in the world’s waters, Heubrandner suggests that whereas the planet has learned to live with such contaminants for millions of years, microplastic pollution poses a much more serious environmental threat. 

Lenzing has today published the results of biodegradability tests conducted by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, USA, which confirmed that “wood-based cellulosic fibres biodegrade in the ocean within a short period of time at the end of their life-cycle”, unlike synthetics.

“We compared the biodegradability of wood-based cellulosic fibres with that of cotton and synthetic fibres and it clearly showed – we took pictures and you could see week after week – how quickly the wood-based cellulosic fibre biodegrade after a few weeks, whereas the synthetic fibre was completely untouched,” Heubrandner explained.

The biodegradability of Lenzing’s 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.

With these clear environmental benefits, Heubrander says growing interest in its fibres within industry reflects the direction demand is shifting.

“We’ve seen a very strong demand already through the COVID crisis… we’ve seen that most of our fibres were sold out again because I think people realise that first of all, sustainability is important but more important is the biodegradability part of it,” Heubrander noted.

However, as previously reported by us in the past, there's been concerns that claims around fibre biodegradability are based simply on laboratory-scale testing and not on 'real-world' conditions found in the huge variety of aquatic environments on this planet. One of the three Lenzing experimental tests were conducted at 30 degrees Celcius, for example.

A new, forthcoming position paper from The Microfibre Consortium, already seen in part by Ecotextile News, aims to address confusion around what exactly is a 'biodegradable fibre' and what is not.

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