As the world becomes more conscious of the environment, we see a rise in popularity of eco-friendly fabrics like Tencel. Tencel is light, versatile, and used in everything from casual wear to underwear to activewear. It’s been lauded as being more sustainable than cotton but it’s a semi-synthetic fiber. Is it biodegradable like natural fiber or will it hang out in our land fills until dooms day?
As it is made from wood pulp, Tencel fibers are 100% biodegradable under industrial, home, soil and marine conditions. However, it biodegrades much slower than cotton or rayon with a half-life of 94 days. If Tencel is blended with synthetic material like nylon and polyester, it won’t biodegrade.
Why does Tencel biodegrade?
Tencel has the ability to fully revert back to nature because it i’s made from a natural source – wood pulp. Even though it is processed with chemicals, Lenzing, the company that produces Tencel, assures us that Tencel is certified as compostable and biodegradable.
However, if Tencel fibers are colored with synthetic non-biodegradable dyes or blended with non-compostable material like nylon, polyester or spandex, the fabric is not biodegradable.
100% Tencel lyocell top
How quickly does Tencel biodegrade?
How quickly Tencel biodegrades depends on the surrounding environment. Fabric degrades most rapidly In warm, moist soil that is well-aerated. In this environment, Tencel was found to biodegrade over short months. A study showed that Tencel was half-way to being fully decomposed at 94 days.
To put this into perspective, rayon has a biodegradation half-life of 22 days and cotton, 40 days. This means, it takes Tencel 4 times as long to decompose compared to rayon and twice as long compared to cotton.
Keep in mind, this is under optimal conditions. In real life, it probably takes a whole lot longer for Tencel to fully return to nature.
Which Tencel fabrics are biodegradable?
Another problem with theoretical scenarios is that it is usually not the case in real life. Almost all Tencel apparel is blended with other types of fibers to form a fabric-blend.
Depending on what type of fiber Tencel is blended with, it might not be biodegradable at all.
This table lists the types of Tencel fabric blends that are biodegradable and those that are not: