Is 100% viscose fabric biodegradable? (7 steps to make viscose) 

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

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

Is 100% viscose fabric biodegradable?

100% viscose 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 viscose is made from natural materials, it is biodegradable. However, it is not eco-friendly because the chemicals used to make viscose may pollute water and air and cause medical complications.

Viscose 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 viscose fabric?

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

Viscose 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 viscose fabric. 

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

Viscose 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, viscose 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 viscose fabric are that it can be used as a substitute for cotton as well. This means that viscose 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, viscose is also anchored to industrial applications such as in tyres and automotive belts. 

What are the steps to make viscose? (7 steps of viscose making) 

Viscose 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 viscose is made from plant-based materials, then why is it termed semi-synthetic? The reason is that although viscose is made from natural plant-based materials, the steps involved in viscose 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 viscose 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 viscose 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% viscose 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 viscose fabric. The last step is spinning and washing so that viscose may be made ready to be used as a fabric in apparel and industrial applications. 

What are the applications of viscose?

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

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

Since viscose 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 viscose 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, viscose fabric is relatively cheaper as compared to cotton which gives it a commercial edge.

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability is the process through which complex substances are broken down into simpler substances by various drivers such as moisture, microbes et cetera. It is the natural process of the Earth to deal with waste. 

The main drivers of this process are microbes that include bacteria, fungi and various other decomposers. They decompose the natural products within months leaving negligible strain on the environment. 

However, as man advanced his understanding of nature and the various phenomena that edifice nature, he came up with many synthetic products as well under the guise of scientific revolutions and discoveries. 

These synthetic products, however, do not gel well with the Earth’s natural system of disposing of wastes and hence as a result, man-made products are not degraded for hundreds of years and are termed as non-biodegradable. 

However, it is not a rigid rule of thumb that man-made products are not biodegradable. Over the course of scientific evolution and understanding, man has created many products that can be degraded just like natural substances like eggshells et cetera. 

Examples of man-made substances that can be degraded easily may include biodegradable plastics or biodegradable packing peanuts. These substances are made from natural material and hence contain no synthetic elements in them. 

It may also be deliberated that these man-made biodegradable products may be degraded in a controlled setup with provided conditions of temperature, pressure and microbes so that any unwanted scenarios are avoided and no harm is caused to life and the environment nearby. 

What are the types of waste based on biodegradability? 

Based on the concept and edifice of biodegradability, wastes can largely be classified into two classes. One type of waste is that which can be degraded while the second type is that which can not be degraded. 

The general understanding related to this concept is that natural products are easily and readily degraded within a short span of time. That is because they contain no artificial or synthetic materials. 

Whereas, synthetic or artificial materials, which usually are man-made, can not be degraded readily and hence may require hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. This increased duration causes strain on the environment which affects life nearby. 

The tragedy today is that non-biodegradable wastes despite being dangerous to the environment and life nearby are preferred by the consumer because of their benefits and convenience of use. 

A common example can be the use of plastic bags in consumer markets. The world was introduced to the detrimental effects of plastic bags a long time ago yet even after that, plastic bags are still used because they are cheap and of good use. 

However, the situation is slowly changing. There is an increased trend toward biodegradable wastes by consumers, especially in developed regions. Other than that, many laws and policies are also being created and implemented to lessen the use of non-biodegradable wastes. 

Technological advances are also advocating in favour of biodegradable wastes by creating products from natural materials. A good example can be biodegradable bags or perhaps biodegradable packaging materials. 

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% viscose fabric biodegradable?

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 viscose 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 viscose is eco-friendly as well. There may be many factors at play here. For example, the production of viscose 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 viscose 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 viscose fabric may reduce the number of trees in unsustainable ways 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that 100% viscose 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 viscose is made from natural materials, it is biodegradable. However, it is not eco-friendly because the chemicals used to make viscose may pollute water and air and cause medical complications.

Viscose 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% viscose biodegradable?

Why is viscose called a semi-synthetic fabric?

Viscose 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 viscose use cause medical complications?

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

References

  • Wilkes, A. G. (2001). The viscose process. Regenerated cellulose fibres, 37-61.
  • 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.
  • Morehead, F. F., & Sisson, W. A. (1945). Skin effect in viscose rayon. Textile Research, 15(12), 443-450.
  • Fahmy, H. M., Eid, R. A. A., Hashem, S. S., & Amr, A. (2013). Enhancing some functional properties of viscose fabric. Carbohydrate polymers, 92(2), 1539-1545.

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