Viscose has often been marketed as a more ecologically sustainable alternative to polyester. It is also praised by some fashion brands because it requires less water to produce compared with cotton.
What is wrong?
Viscose is found in a huge variety of clothes and is used by almost every major fashion brand today. Although not inherently unsustainable, it is the production process of viscose that presents a very problematic story.
Basically, wood pulp is extracted from wood, then turned into viscose staple fibre (VSF) and filament yarn through a highly chemical process using carbon disulphide.
Viscose production faces a three pronged issue: the risk of losing ancient forests, occupational hazards of factory workers, and heavy contamination that results from poor waste management of viscose factories, not only polluting nearby waters and air, but causing widespread illnesses.
Viscose production has had a big role in the modernisation of India, which is the second largest producer of viscose fibre after China. A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Soil Sciences, claims that a plant in a city in Madhya Pradesh is causing groundwater pollution. Effluent pollution may, of course, be dangerous for the health of nearby villagers, however it may also have detrimental impacts on the soil quality of agricultural land, effectively damaging crops.
Investigators observed blackened water with streaks of colour flowing through in the river just a few kilometres away from the plant. This kind of pollution also spreads an extremely bad smell, which has become an everyday situation for many villages; for instance local residents have complained about the bad stench of “rotten radishes” which is a typical characteristic of the chemical used in viscose production.
Not such an eco-friendly fabric now, is it?