Lenzing’s circular economy practices

To make its vision a reality, Lenzing follows six main practices that embed various elements of the circular economy into its business model.

They include:

  • Natural circularity
  • Resource-efficient products and technologies
  • Developing commercial-scale recycling technologies
  • Transparency and traceability of supply chains
  • Climate change and circular economy
  • Partnering for systemic change

Circular economy model of the Lenzing Group

Circular economy model (illustration)

As shown in figure “Circular economy model of the Lenzing Group”, the origin of Lenzing’s renewable raw material wood lies in sustainably managed forests and plantations. The wood is processed into pulp in Lenzing’s biorefineries, with the renewable energy produced being used to meet the energy needs for production and other processes at the site. Lyocell fiber production at Lenzing is a closed-loop, solvent-based production technology that allows more than 99.8 percent of the solvent to be recovered.

The waste generated during certain manufacturing steps (e.g. production waste from garment making) can be used as raw material for other steps, reducing the need for new resources, avoiding waste and increasing resource efficiency. To address the enormous waste challenges facing the textile industry, Lenzing has developed a unique solution for recycling technologies called REFIBRA™ (for textiles) and Eco Cycle (for nonwovens). These technologies, in addition to virgin pulp, use cotton waste from brands/retailers and end-of-life garments that cannot be reused or refurbished as raw materials after consumer use. At the end-of-life stage, Lenzing fibers are compostable and biodegradable. This closes the material loop and aligns with the biological cycle.

As complex global challenges such as the transition from a linear to a circular system require a collaborative approach, Lenzing enters into partnerships with several stakeholders with the clear goal of driving systemic change in the textile and nonwovens industry. To lay the foundation for credible sustainability performance, especially for the circular economy, it needs transparency. Close digital connections facilitate supply chain traceability and help to verify the origin of Lenzing fibers throughout the life cycle up to the final garment. By promoting the circular economy, Lenzing also contributes to addressing the global challenge of climate change. Lenzing strives to find synergistic solutions such as its biorefinery concept, which not only addresses circularity but also contributes to climate change mitigation at the same time.

Circulation (icon)

Natural circularity

Natural circularity covers the biological cycle, which is based on two aspects: renewable origins and the biodegradability/compostability of natural materials. Lenzing’s products are made from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests and plantations as described in the “Raw material security” chapter. Lenzing fibers are compostable and biodegrade at the end of their use5. Their safe disposal at the end-of-life stage into the natural environment enables the cellulose material loop to close in alignment with the biological cycle.

Resource efficiency (icon)

Resource-efficient products and technologies

Cascading use of biomass

The Lenzing Group operates two biorefineries: one in Lenzing (Austria) and one in Paskov (Czech Republic). As depicted in figure “Highly efficient use of the raw material wood at the Lenzing Group’s biorefineries”, Lenzing biorefinery technology converts wood into pulp, biobased co-products and energy. Lenzing markets the valuable co-products, like LENZING™ Acetic Acid Biobased, furfural, xylose, soda or lignosulfonate, to other industries, thereby making a major contribution to optimum utilization of the natural resources wood. As for energy, the biorefineries are energetically self-sufficient. The surplus renewable energy (steam and electricity) that is produced is supplied as renewable energy for on-site use in fiber production and other purposes. This is a prime example of the cascading use of biomass and 100 percent utilization of wood without generating any waste.

Highly efficient use of the raw material wood at the Lenzing Group’s biorefineries

(in % from wood input)

Highly efficient use of the raw material wood (illustration)

Closed-loop production

Lenzing’s lyocell process is a unique, closed-loop solvent-based production technology that allows the manufacturing of cellulosic fibers without chemical conversions. The process follows a basic dissolution concept and allows more than 99.8 percent of the solvent to be recovered and recycled. This avoids waste and ensures high resource utilization, while reducing water consumption and emissions.

Lenzing also sets standards for closing the loops even further in the traditional production of viscose and modal fibers. Carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide are recovered from the process, converted and returned to the production process as raw materials.

Management of production waste

There are several contexts in which waste is generated in facilities, such as the packaging of procured goods or within production processes. Lenzing follows a waste hierarchy and avoids waste wherever possible. For more information, please see the “Waste management” chapter.

Recycling (icon)

Developing commercial-scale recycling technologies

Lenzing has developed a recycling technology called REFIBRA™ to address the enormous textile waste challenges facing the industry and society. This technology utilizes a substantial proportion of cotton waste as well as dissolving wood pulp as raw materials. Lenzing continued to offer TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ branded lyocell fibers with up to 30 percent recycled content in 2021. Along with dissolving wood pulp, pulp from cotton scraps is used for the closed-loop commercial-scale production of lyocell fiber. This creates high-quality fibers with the same properties as fibers from virgin dissolving wood pulp. The fiber is available under the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS), certifying that all production processes in the entire supply chain have undergone the relevant steps to ensure the integrity of the final product.

The TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ market presence was stepped up in 2021, with increasing collections and more than 50 brands already offering garments or products containing TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™. Some of these brands also use the option of closing the loop to return garment production waste to Lenzing as a raw material base for garments and home textile products made with TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ fibers. The cooperation with brands has also been highlighted in “The Good Loop” campaign, in which three brand partners show their products made with TENCEL™ x REFIBRA™ fibers. To address the growing industry demand for “circular fashion” and carbon neutrality, Lenzing also recently expanded its carbon-zero TENCEL™ branded fibers with REFIBRA™ technology.

Recycling technology has also been introduced for nonwoven products. VEOCEL™ Lyocell fibers with Eco Cycle technology enable the use of recycled content in a broad range of hygiene applications that have the same fiber properties and fiber quality. Within the production process, one-third of the required pulp is recycled from cotton scraps used in garment production and post-consumer waste, while the remaining amount is taken from sustainably sourced wood.

Lenzing is developing new applications to support circularity not only for textile and nonwovens, but also for other industries such as agriculture and packaging. For example, biodegradable vegetable nets for packaging can replace similar non-biodegradable products.

In line with its vision, “We give waste a new life. Every day”, Lenzing strives to make textile waste recycling a common standard process like paper recycling. Lenzing has set a target and measures to make this vision a reality: it plans to offer viscose, modal and lyocell staple fibers with up to 50 percent post-consumer recycled content on a commercial scale by 2025. For more information, please see the “Sustainability targets, measures and progress” chapter.

Lenzing runs an active research and development project to further improve the utilization of post-consumer textile waste for the production of fully biobased and biodegradable fibers. Some important steps towards the broad, industrial-scale use of post-consumer cellulosic waste have been taken within this project and turned into patent applications.

To further speed up the technological development of textile recycling followed by an expansion of capacity for generating pulp from post-consumer waste, Lenzing began collaborating with Södra, another leading global pulp producer, in 2021. The goal is to recycle and process 25,000 tons of textile waste per year by 2025 at Södra’s Mörrum site. Together with partners along the value chain, Lenzing aims to promote the issue of textile recycling and process 100,000 tons of textile waste by 2028.

As one of the leading companies in the field of sustainability, Lenzing is committed to improving the state of the industry. Thus, as well as developing recycled materials to satisfy Lenzing’s own circularity commitments, this joint project with Södra will enable substantial quantities of recycled pulp to be used by other wood-based cellulose fiber producers across the world. Lenzing is therefore contributing to the scaling of circularity and fibers with recycled content in the market.

“The cooperation with Södra is a major milestone towards achieving our ambitious climate and sustainability goals. We are proud to be able to follow this path with a competent partner. One company alone cannot solve the pressing issue of textile waste. It is proactive partnerships such as this that enable us to move forward and bring about real systemic change.”

Christian Skilich, Member of the Managing Board of Lenzing
Magnifying glass (icon)

Transparency and traceability of supply chains

Transparency provides a foundation for credible sustainability performance, especially the circular economy that will be part of the upcoming EU legislation for supply chain due diligence. Gaining a deeper understanding of Lenzing’s suppliers and downstream customers is critical for minimizing the Lenzing Group’s overall environmental impact and putting it on the right track to achieve a low-impact, carbon neutral footprint by 2050. Traceability also gives customers and end users confidence. Close digital connections across the network help close the loops efficiently and holistically and facilitate the transition from a linear to a circular supply chain. More information on digitalization is provided in the “Digitalization & cyber security” chapter.

Carbon emissions (icon)

Climate change and circular economy

Lenzing has an approved science-based target (SBT) and will reduce the CO2 emissions from its operations and supply chain in line with the Paris Agreement. Circularity and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Lenzing strives to find synergistic solutions such as the successful Lenzing biorefinery concept so that innovations and solutions to circular economy challenges can contribute to reducing climate related impacts. This is also true for Lenzing products with recycled materials, e.g. using the REFIBRA™ and Eco Cycle technologies, which have lower carbon footprints than fibers conventionally produced from virgin resources.

Partnering (icon)

Partnering for systemic change

Collaboration is essential to the transition to a circular economy. Partnering for systemic change is one of the basic principles of Lenzing’s “Naturally positive” sustainability strategy for jointly achieving targets with Lenzing’s major stakeholders.

Policy Hub on the circular economy for the apparel and footwear industry

In 2019, Lenzing became a member of the Policy Hub on the circular economy for the apparel and footwear industry, which it has also co-chaired since May 2020. In 2021, the company actively contributed to the industry’s understanding of barriers and challenges facing the circular economy in areas such as waste and recycling technologies, transparency, and sustainable product initiatives. Lenzing has also actively engaged with the public and EU policy makers in exchanging information on barriers and possible solutions for advancing circularity.

European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX)

EURATEX is the European Apparel and Textile Confederation, representing the interests of the European textile and clothing industry at the EU institutional level. Lenzing has contributed to EURATEX, as well as its latest project ReHubs, to further promote circularity in the textile industry.

ReHubs will enable the creation of a new European market of secondary raw materials, saving additional waste-related costs. These recycling hubs will create and spread knowledge about product recyclability and product design to improve cooperation between makers and buyers across the industry value chain.

By successfully overcoming R&D challenges, ReHubs will not only tackle the issue of landfill and incineration but will also provide an opportunity for Europe to strengthen its long-term autonomy regarding raw materials and provide a healthy recycling ecosystem across Europe. In addition, ReHubs will create new green jobs. Estimates indicate that around 20 jobs could be created for every 1,000 tons of textiles collected, sorted, and recycled, ultimately creating up to 120,000 jobs in the European Union6.

Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE)

The Lenzing Group promotes systemic change in the textile industry in another spin-off of the World Economic Forum, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). The vision of this initiative, now hosted by the World Resources Institute, is a circular economy that is designed to prevent waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. Lenzing has contributed to the development of the Circular Economy Action agenda for Textiles, which was published in 2021. Lenzing’s TENCEL™ REFIBRA™ technology has been showcased for “upcycling cotton and cellulosic waste”.

Accelerating Circularity Project

Accelerating Circularity’s mission is to design and implement systems in which textile waste is repurposed as a raw material, and is no longer incinerated or sent to landfill. With this model, materials will be constantly reused or recycled, and textile waste will itself become a valuable resource. Lenzing is pleased to be a Board representative of an organization that envisions a textile world that is restorative and regenerative by design; one that creates shared value, enhances equality, and promotes the well-being of communities. In addition to a founding partner for the project in the US in 2019, Lenzing also joined as a project partner for Europe in 2021.

Textiles 2030 (an initiative of Waste & Resources Action Programme, WRAP)

In August 2021, Lenzing was one of the pioneering signatories of the voluntary Textiles 2030 agreement. Textiles 2030 is WRAP’s new expert-led initiative in the UK designed to limit the impact of clothes and home textiles on climate change. It represents a voluntary agreement that is funded by its signatories and the government. Signatories will collaborate on carbon, water and circular textile targets, as well as contribute to national policy discussions. With its manufacturing facilities in Grimsby in the United Kingdom, Lenzing is honored to take part in this initiative for proactively fostering circularity and systemic change in the textiles industry.

Circular Fashion Partnership (an initiative of the Global Fashion Agenda)

Circular Fashion Partnership is a cross-sectoral project led by Global Fashion Agenda. Fashion brands, manufacturers and recyclers collaborate to capture and reuse textile waste in Bangladesh. Lenzing is engaged in accelerating the transition to a circular system in the fashion industry.

5) All standard fibers from Lenzing are compostable and biodegradable in freshwater, marine and soil conditions. The compostability and biodegradability of final consumer textile and nonwoven products depend on the material composition (fiber blend) and processing in the value chain steps.

6) EURATEX, 2020. ReHubs – A joint initiative for industrial upcycling of textile waste streams & circular materials. https://euratex.eu/wp-content/uploads/Recycling-Hubs-FIN-LQ.pdf [Assessed January 14, 2022]

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