Lenzing Looks To New Life in Recycled Cotton

Recycled cotton can be used to create a variety of apparel products.
Recycled cotton can be used to create a variety of apparel products.

Lenzing is a global leader in specialty, wood-based fibers with a mission to drive the textile value chain towards a circular economy. The transition to wood-based fiber solutions is accommodated within an array of the company’s product portfolio, including TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers, which have gained a commendable reputation as a blending partner for other fibers, including cotton.

Cotton is the second most important fiber in terms of volume, with around 25 million tons produced every year. In 2021, it had a market share of approximately 22 percent of global fiber consumption. However, sourcing of recycled cotton still remains low, only at 4.5%, according to Textile Exchange’s 2022 Material Change Insights.

New life

Through mechanical-recycling processes, in which most cotton is recycled, the life of cotton can be greatly extended. Coupled with the current fiber blending partners, recycled cotton can be used to create a variety of apparel products. Additionally, the rejuvenated material can still be used for other products that require cotton, such as cleaning tools like mops or rags.

Due to the fact that manual shredding in the recycling process results in a shorter fiber than its virgin counterpart, it is a common practice to blend recycled cotton with other fibers, such as TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers with high tenacity, to strengthen the durability of the yarn. This breathes new life into recycled cotton, ready to be woven into fresh textiles.

IFJ: Why does Lenzing see recycled cotton as an area for continued fiber innovation?

Gülfem Oral, Global Business Development Manager, Fashion Ready to Wear at Lenzing Group: We believe that materials used in textiles play a key role in forging a circular textile ecosystem. Since cotton is one of the most used fibers worldwide, we should look for ways to extend its lifecycle and utilize it to the fullest.  

Lenzing encourages the scaling of recycled materials by presenting strong blending material solutions like TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers for value chain partners. Not only a wood-based cellulosic fiber, but with its high tenacity profile, TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers can bolster yarn strength, making it an ideal blending partner for recycled cotton which is weakened by recycling process. Choosing TENCEL™ branded fibers as a blending partner allows mills and brands to be compatible with a more extensive range of raw materials, unlocking creative possibilities. Lenzing also helps partners in excelling their products, leveraging TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers that give fabrics a natural softness and support a natural dry feeling through moisture control.

Recycled cotton blended with TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers.

IFJ: What makes TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers a strong blending partner for recycled cotton or other recycled natural materials?

GO:TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers are derived from wood, a natural and renewable raw material, in an innovative closed-loop production process which transformed from wood pulp into cellulosic fibers, while more than 99.8% of the solvent is recovered and fed back into the loop, resulting in near-zero wastage. It contributes to the overall circularity of recycled cotton products. While shorted cotton fibers may result in coarseness, TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers’ properties lend a natural softness to the blended fabrics, making them feel pleasant against the skin.

Driving the Conversation and Solutions

Lenzing backs their leadership in industry circularity with fiber blending solutions like TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers, advancing the marketplace and enabling the reclamation of cotton fibers. The fiber producer also advocates the use of recycled cotton at different levels by fostering a collaborative effort with textile designers and manufacturers, co-creating viable options to provide consumers with recycle-friendly designs.

IFJ: From an industry standpoint, what more can be done to encourage the use of recycled content in textiles and fashion?

GO: Brands can also help lead the charge. For example, take-back programs can be initiated to collect garments that have reached their end lives back for recycling. These garments can then be cycled back into the materials marketplace for their preferred brands to utilize in the future. The ideas are endless in the recycled materials forum, and Lenzing is proud to be leading the discussion on ways to accomplish these goals.