Solution Spotlight: Birla Cellulose: Circular fibers and sustainable fashion

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(THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY BIRLA CELLULOSE– ONE OF THE SOLUTION PROVIDERS FEATURED IN GLOBAL FASHION AGENDA’S INNOVATION FORUM)

The current system for producing, distributing and using clothing operates almost in a linear way. It generates about 92 million tons of waste every year, out of which only 1% is estimated to be recycled, most of it is going to landfill and incineration, or leaks to the environment and finds its way to soil, aquatic bodies and oceans.

The linear system leaves untapped economic opportunities, puts pressure on our natural resources and creates a significant environmental impact at local, regional and global scales – a recent report estimated that the overall benefit to the global economy would be about USD$ 192 billion in 2030 if the sector were to address the environmental and societal impacts of the current way of operations. 1

Growing consumer awareness concerning the impacts of clothing on the environment, subsequent textile waste after the useful life of clothing, depletion of resources and climate change has led to a shift towards more sustainable use of textile materials. Fibres used in textiles and clothing are basic constituents and are a key driver towards a sustainable movement in the textile industry. MMCF have emerged as one of the most sustainable fibres in recent times mainly on account of their sustainability credentials and circularity potential. They are biodegradable and compostable at the end of their useful life. MMCF are made from cellulose extracted from renewable wood that is dissolved and regenerated informs of pure cellulosic fibres.

The initiatives

On average, 15-20% of all materials in the supply chain end up as waste before a garment or product even reaches the consumer. This could be cutting waste, un-useable stock due to last-minute design changes, spoilage in transport, or excess stock that is not sold on the retail market and, at times, is landfilled / incinerated.

The challenge however, no technology were available to recycle pre-consumer cotton waste into fresh cellulosic fibres. Along with this there is a lack of transparency & traceability due to unstructured, long, complex textile value chain.

In addition, the cellulose sourced from sources such as food waste, algae, microbial biomass, grass etc. also have good potential to be used as an alternative source of raw material that can replace the wood-based pulp in MMCF industry. Closing the loop in MMCF through textile-to-textile recycling can be done in two main ways – mechanical and chemical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies are best poised to tackle the bulk of textile waste, producing fibres of identical (or in some instances superior) quality. Inherent to the mechanical recycling process is the shortening of the fibres, reducing their performance during the yarn and fabric production. This makes it challenging to achieve the desired versatility and quality of finished garments using mechanically recycled fibres.

Investing in textile waste recycling has been a key part of Birla Cellulose’s commitment to contributing to a circular economy.  Its R&D efforts towards a circular economy and alternative feedstock has led to several innovations that have shown promising results and are in various stages of development, starting from lab level, to a pilot and some have already reached the commercial level.

Liva Reviva

Birla Cellulose has achieved a breakthrough in manufacturing viscose fibre “Liva Reviva” using pre-consumer cotton fabric waste and following the principles of circular economy.

In a recent production run, Birla Cellulose have successfully stabilized production of the Recycled Claimed Standard (RCS) certified product, Liva Reviva which contains 20%  of pre-consumer waste and wood pulp from sustainable forests. The journey of Liva Reviva started with Birla Cellulose’s commitment on fibre production using more than 20% Next Generation feedstock as input material by 2030.

The quality of the fibre is comparable to the quality of fibre produced using virgin wood-based pulp. So far, the Liva Reviva fibre has been sold to more than 20 global brands. Birla Cellulose’s current efforts are focussed on developing products made with industrial, post-consumer and alternate feedstock and increase the use of alternate feedstock in the total production and reduce the cost of production of these new fibres, so that in long term they can reduce the dependence on virgin wood-based pulp.

Circular Fashion Partnership of GFA is at Core of Liva Reviva

The circular product need circular business model, that means that the waste needs to be collected, sorted, processed and recycled into fresh fibres with close cooperation of the all players in its value chain. The circular products need a supply of good quality waste on continuous basis and this needs collaboration with several waste suppliers. A large part of the waste recycled into Liva Reviva comes from the Circular Fashion Partners and facilitated by Reverse Resources.

In another partnership ‘Fashion for Good’, has initiated a first-of-its-kind consortium project, inviting a select group of innovators to work on technologies in chemical recycling of used clothing and garments to produce new fibres and drive industry-wide adoption. The Project “Full Circle Textiles – Scaling Innovations in Cellulosic Recycling” aims to investigate economically viable and scalable solutions for cellulosic chemical recycling to enable a closed loop system converting textile waste – of cotton and cotton-blend materials, to produce new MMCF.

Leading global organisations – Laudes Foundation, Birla Cellulose, Kering, PVH Corp. and Target – joined Fashion for Good, to explore the disruptive solutions, with the goal of creating new fibres and garments from used clothing, and ultimately drive industry-wide adoption.

GreenTrack™ – blockchain based traceability platform

Birla Cellulose understands the importance of traceability & transparency, being a leading supplier of viscose fibre to global textile manufacturers. Through its pioneering platform GreenTrack™ based on blockchain technology, Birla Cellulose along with their value chain partners tracks material flow real time in the supply chain of fibre, from certified forests to the end consumers. Through simple scan of QR code end-to-end sustainability journey is visible to consumers and helps them make an informed purchase decision.

Providing top-notch technology solution for better integration of business partners is important for Birla Cellulose and its blockchain traceability platform is a powerful tool for global brands to communicate their sustainability story to end consumers.

Impact and opportunities

While all Birla Cellulose fibres are produced from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests, the direct positive impact of this initiative is reducing the reliance on wood for making viscose, which in turn will lead to resource conservation. Textile waste, which was otherwise going to the landfill, has the immense potential to be rerouted and used as alternative feedstock for fibre manufacturing.

Liva Reviva has ecological benefits as it has lower water consumption by nearly 65% as compared to generic viscose and lower GHG emissions by about 25% based on Higg MSI tool provided by SAC.

Birla Cellulose collaborates with the value chain partners for ‘reverse logistics’ for collecting appropriate waste for the development of this product which in turn created higher value for small scale textile waste recyclers. This helped in scaling up the operations. The demand of circular fiber Liva Reviva is growing sharply and has increased 500% in one year.

Waste segregation at the source is needed along with training and capability building at all stages. this also led to new jobs creation for waste segregation and processing and a win-win solution for all partners. Circular products reduces environmental impacts in the value chain.

To increase transparency, the business uses GreenTrack™ platform to help consumers track the entire journey of the product from plantation, and the reverse journey of the value chain to help garment houses and brands.

Birla Cellulose has emerged as a winner in the first edition of the  “National Innovative and Sustainable Supply Chain Awards”  by UN Global Compact Network India held in April 2021.

The case study presented by the company– Liva Reviva by Birla Cellulose & Fully Traceable Circular Global Fashion Supply Chains – was awarded for innovation in recycled and circular fibre made with pre-consumer fabric waste and end-to-end ‘live’ supply chain transparency and traceability through its unique blockchain-based platform GreenTrack™.

Way Forward

Developing and manufacturing circular fibres is a significant part of Birla Cellulose’s commitment to circular economy and the R&D team is working on developing products made with more than 50% industrial fabric waste as well as post-consumer clothing as inputs. Birla Cellulose is prioritizing the increased use of alternate feedstock and is committed to accelerate innovations that are aligned with UN SDGs 2030.

“Liva Reviva  made using  textile waste,  is part of our commitment for circularity and valuable partnerships  and is aligned to the goals of UN SDG 2030. The innovations in technology and close partnership with fashion industry value chain has helped scale-up this product. , The circular products require close  collaboration within the fashion industry value chain partners and s and brands” Mr Dilip Gaur, Business Director, Pulp and Fibre Business, Aditya Birla Group.

[1] https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/A-New-Textiles-Economy_Full-Report_Updated_1-12-17.pdf

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