Is 100% rayon fabric biodegradable? (3 reasons why it is not eco-friendly) 

In this article, the biodegradability of 100% rayon fabric is discussed. Other covered topics are: 

  • What is rayon fabric?
  • What are the steps to make rayon?
  • What are the applications of rayon fabric?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the examples of biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste?
  • Is 100% rayon biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is 100% rayon fabric biodegradable?

100% rayon is biodegradable because it is purely made from natural materials like wood pulp. 

It is a semi-synthetic fabric which is obtained from the cellulose of wood pulp but it is made by using a variety of chemicals. 

Since rayon is made from natural materials, it is biodegradable. However, it is not eco-friendly because the chemicals used to make rayon may pollute water and air and cause medical complications.

Rayon has a silk-like appearance and can also be used as a cheap alternative to cotton. It is also involved in various industrial applications. 

What is rayon fabric?

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric which is also called viscose. The word semi-synthetic is used for rayon because it is obtained from natural sources, chiefly wood pulp, but then is subjected to an elaborate process of fabric formation and finishing. 

Rayon is considered to be the first man-made fabric which is seconded by polyester. It was first produced in the United Kingdom. However, China, now, is the biggest producer of rayon fabric. 

When it comes to the production of rayon fabric, it is seen that there are several steps involved in the production of rayon fabric. The journey from wood pulp to fabric fibres has to pass through a lot of chemical milestones and that is why rayon is termed semi-synthetic, instead of natural fabric. 

In terms of physical properties, it is regarded as very breathable and high moisture-wicking in its properties. That is why there are extensive applications attached and linked to rayon fabric. 

Rayon has a silk-like appearance just like polyester. Because of these properties, it can be used and employed as an alternative to silk fabric too. One great edge here is budget-friendly. Silk fabric is quite expensive because it is not easy to produce. 

Whereas, rayon fabric can be made from wood pulp and that is why consumers can enjoy silk-like features in fabric while at a portion of silk price. 

Other uses of rayon fabric are that it can be used as a substitute for cotton as well. This means that rayon can be employed and used in almost all the common apparel items like shirts, pants, blazers et cetera. 

Other than applications adhered to the apparel industry, rayon is also anchored to industrial applications such as in tyres and automotive belts. 

What are the steps to make rayon? 

Rayon is termed ‘semi synthetic’ material because it is obtained from natural, plant-based sources. These may be cellulose from wood pulp. 

You may wonder that if rayon is made from plant-based materials, then why is it termed semi-synthetic? The reason is that although rayon is made from natural plant-based materials, the steps involved in rayon fabric making are thronged with many synthetic checkpoints such as the addition of synthetic chemicals et cetera. 

In this section, we will detail all the various steps involved in the making of rayon fabric. These are: 

  • Extraction of base material (cellulose) 
  • Alkali cellulose conversion 
  • Pressing 
  • Ageing and xanthation 
  • Ripening 
  • Filtering & extrusion 
  • Acid bath & finalisation 

The first step in the production of rayon fabric is obviously the extraction of cellulose from wood pulp. In order to ensure good quality and efficient functioning, cellulose must be more than 90% pure. 100% rayon means that cellulose is 100% pure and no blending is done at this stage. 

The next stage is the conversion of cellulose to alkali cellulose. This is done by employing a chemical called caustic soda. When cellulose is reacted with caustic soda, cellulose is converted to alkali cellulose. This process is also important because it renders alkali cellulose pure. 

Next in line, we have the removal of liquid from alkali cellulose which is obtained by pressing alkali cellulose between two rollers. Therefore, this process is a mechanical energy-intensive process. 

The white substance obtained after the pressing of alkali cellulose is then converted into a yellow crumb by exposing it to oxygen and carbon disulphide. 

The obtained yellow crumb is allowed to ripen. This process may take a few hours to complete. This is followed by filtration. Filtration is done so that all the possible gas bubbles are removed from the ripened yellow crumb. 

The yellow crumb then is exposed to sulphuric acid which results in rayon fabric. The last step is spinning and washing so that rayon may be made ready to be used as a fabric in apparel and industrial applications. 

What are the applications of rayon?

There are a number of applications of rayon or rayon fabric. From a historical perspective, it was created as a cheaper substitute for silk. Because rayon has silk-like characteristics, it can be opted for by consumers. 

One edge that rayon or rayon offers is that it is economical as compared to natural silk. Silk is also rare but rayon can be produced to meet the burgeoning demands of the consumers. 

Since rayon is derived from cellulose of wood pulp, it is very similar to the cotton fabric as well. Cotton fabric is used in almost all the apparel products like shirts, t-shirts, blazers, shorts, undergarments et cetera. 

Since rayon has a similar appearance to cotton, it can be used as an alternative to cotton. While there will be some tradeoff in terms of qualities, rayon fabric is relatively cheaper as compared to cotton which gives it a commercial edge.

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability is a process through which complex materials are broken down into simple materials by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and even yeast. 

The process of biodegradability can be called a natural dustbin because it is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste accumulation in the environment. It is coded in the profile of nature that waste has harmful impacts on the environment. 

The harmful impacts of waste are not just restricted to the environment but also the life that resides within it. If there is no biodegradation, there will be waste and deterioration of life and our atmosphere, in short, a global catastrophe. 

Regarding biodegradability, it is generally thought that there are two types of waste. These are biodegradable and non-biodegradable. 

After a detailed introduction to what biodegradability is, you may wonder why biodegradability is an urgent matter. It is believed that the statistical assertions are fervent enough answer to this curiosity. 

The world’s population stands at around 7.8 billion and is expected to cross the threshold of 11 billion in the years to come. As far as waste production is concerned, it is estimated that an average person makes more than 4-5 kgs of waste per day. 

If you do the maths, the results are beyond staggering. The global waste production stands at a whopping 2 billion tons which may reach up to 3 billion tons in the coming time. Out of these 2 billion tons, around 1 billion tons of waste are not discarded properly. 

To further exacerbate the situation, if more non-biodegradable waste is generated as compared to biodegradable waste, then this simply implies our doomsday. There will be no space left to keep and treat the waste products and this will affect every life that is out there in the world, not to mention the effects on our future. 

This approach is bluntly opposite to what the principles of sustainability are. Sustainability preaches to be useful in the present in a way that the future generations’ needs are not sacrificed. 

That is why biodegradability is an urgent matter. We need to shift toward biodegradable waste both as a consumer and as a human because otherwise, there is no way out. 

Further, given the current context of science and technology, it is easily possible to shift to biodegradable waste. As the environmental concern rises, more and more people and producers are shifting towards sustainability and eco-friendliness. 

As a result, biodegradability and sustainability have become easy options to opt for without going the extra mile. Popular examples can be bio-based plastics, bio-polymers, natural fertilisers, renewable sources of energy et cetera. 

What are some examples of biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of biodegradable wastes may include: 

  • Food waste
  • Human waste 
  • Manure Sewage 
  • Hospital waste 
  • Dead animals & Plants 
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Toilet paper

What are some examples of non-biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Plastics 
  • Hazardous substances
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilisers
  • E-wastes
  • Rubbers
  • Polymers
  • Shopping bags 
  • Packaging materials
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Nuclear Wastes

Is 100% rayon fabric biodegradable? (3 reasons why it is not eco-friendly) 

It has been assessed that for a substance to be biodegradable, it must be sourced from natural materials. We have also covered various examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable products. 

In the light of the above discussion, it can be summed that rayon fabric is biodegradable because it is made from wood pulp. Wood pulp is a plant-based material which can be degraded by the action of microbes. 

However, being biodegradable does not mean that rayon is eco-friendly as well. There may be many factors at play here. For example, the production of rayon fabric involves the use of many chemicals. These chemicals can cause severe impacts on the environment and humans. 

Some of the harmful effects of chemicals used in rayon making are given below: 

  • Carbon disulphide may cause medical complications like birth defects, mutations, skin allergies and cardiovascular complications. 
  • Sodium hydroxide may pollute water streams and may also reduce the air quality index
  • The use of wood pulp to produce massive amounts of rayon fabric may reduce the number of trees in unsustainable ways 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that 100% rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric which is obtained from the cellulose of wood pulp but it is made by using a variety of chemicals. 

Since rayon is made from natural materials, it is biodegradable. However, it is not eco-friendly because the chemicals used to make rayon may pollute water and air and cause medical complications.

Rayon has a silk-like appearance and can also be used as a cheap alternative to cotton. It is also involved in various industrial applications. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is 100% rayon biodegradable?

Why is rayon called a semi-synthetic fabric?

Rayon is termed semi-synthetic because it is obtained from the cellulose of wood pulp but it is made by using a variety of chemicals.

Can rayon use cause medical complications?

Rayon fabric may cause cancer, reproductive issues, cardiovascular issues, and even cancers. 

References

  • Shaikh, T., Chaudhari, S., & Varma, A. (2012). Viscose rayon: a legendary development in the manmade textile. International Journal of Engineering Research and Application, 2(5), 675-680.

  • Bae, Y. J., Jang, M. J., & Um, I. C. (2022). Silk/Rayon Webs and Nonwoven Fabrics: Fabrication, Structural Characteristics, and Properties. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(14), 7511.
  • Park, C. H., Kang, Y. K., & Im, S. S. (2004). Biodegradability of cellulose fabrics. Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 94(1), 248-253.
  • Zambrano, M. C., Pawlak, J. J., Daystar, J., Ankeny, M., Cheng, J. J., & Venditti, R. A. (2019). Microfibers generated from the laundering of cotton, rayon and polyester based fabrics and their aquatic biodegradation. Marine pollution bulletin, 142, 394-407.
  • Carreón, T., Hein, M. J., Hanley, K. W., Viet, S. M., & Ruder, A. M. (2014). Coronary artery disease and cancer mortality in a cohort of workers exposed to vinyl chloride, carbon disulfide, rotating shift work, and o‐toluidine at a chemical manufacturing plant. American journal of industrial medicine, 57(4), 398-411.

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